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Another nod to Robert Burns’ life & writings at The Blue Wing Frog

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On Saturday, February 1st, exactly one week after Scottish poet, lyricist and beloved “Bard” Robert Burns’ January 25 birthday, those bred to Scotland or just attracted to the Scottish way and Burns’ timeless way of expressing the life, longings and hopes of the Scottish, and really people in general, gathered to celebrate his life.

Event co-sponsors and hosts Scott and Lisa Jenkins of Mountain Home Bed & Breakfast in southern Warren County and Robert Hall and Kelly Sprague of The Blue Wing Frog venue on Chester Street in Front Royal, explained the week’s delay in celebrating the life and writings of Burns as not wanting to compete with the nearby Virginia Beer Museum’s third annual Burns celebration several blocks away.

From left, EDA Board Vice-Chair Jeff Browne and event co-sponsors Lisa and Scott Jenkins of Mountain Home B&B in southern Warren County. We asked Lisa and Scott if they found the spectacular Sean Heely Celtic Trio wandering along the AT. Not quite Lisa replied, piper Tracy Jenkins is their son. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

And having now attended both this season’s Chester Street in Front Royal Burns events, this reporter would offer that as a continued good idea, as the maternal side Scot in me would have suffered greatly by missing either event. For surely now there now will be a reprise to this sold out and successful inaugural Mountain Home-Blue Wing Frog Burns evening as well.

And if by some measure this most recent event might be considered a tad more sedate than the previous week’s, that is only from a certain perspective; and certainly not from an entertainment, ceremonial haggis presenting, multi-course dinner, and dramatic, brogue-tinged readings of Burns’ works, perspective.

A portrait of Robert Burns painted by his friend, Scottish painter Alexander Nasmyth – Public Domain/at Wikipedia

Musical entertainment was provided by a trio headed by U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion Sean Heely. The Sean Heely Celtic Trio was sensationally rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Kevin Elam and Scottish Border Piper Tracy Jenkins. It was apparent from the start of Saturday’s festivities that this was not this trio’s first go-round with a Burns event.

Heely led the trio through a variety of traditional Scottish music, as described on the Trio’s website, “fiery dance tunes, ballads, sea shanties and ancient soaring melodies from Scotland and Ireland”, well at least the Scottish ones Saturday night.

The Sean Heely Celtic Trio get down to musical business as they did throughout the evening at The Blue Wing Frog-Mountain Home B&B sponsored Burns night.

And with a distinctive brogue Heely took the lead in reading Burns works, which included “Address to a Haggis”, “Green Grow the Rashes”, “The Broom of the Cowdenknowes” and “To a Mouse”, the latter an apology to a mouse for a farmer’s plow overturning its burrowed home, and a personal favorite of this reporter, “Easy and Free” which was popularized in modern times by The Pogues (originally known for you Gaelic speakers as “Pogue Mahone”) with bassist Cait O’Riordan on vocals as “A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day”.

The packed house also chimed in for a rendition of Burns’ “Old Lang Syne” adopted as a New Year’s tribute-lament to friends near and far away. Burns works continue to speak to us over the centuries, as annual celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic will attest.

Heely and piper Jenkins helped Blue Wing Frog owner Hall present the traditional Scottish haggis. And after “the piper was paid” Blue Wing Frog owner Robert Hall acknowledged partner and chef supreme Kelly Sprague’s production of the haggis, central to any Burns Day celebration.

Top, Blue Wing Frog owner Robert Hall tells Sean Heely, I’ll carry the haggis out, but you have to cut it; center Heely ‘pays the piper’ Tracy Jenkins for piping in the haggis; and below Heely says a ceremonial prayer before opening the haggis by sword.

Eat it and don’t ask, I would suggest after downing the haggis portion of a spectacular, Scottish-tinged multi-course meal provided by the Blue Wing Frog hosts. So what if the innards are wrapped in the animals’ intestines? – It appeared to be an air and germ tight containment apparatus, opened ceremonially by Burns poetry reading and fiddling savant Heely.

Another highlight of the evening was provided by dueling “Toasts to the Lassies and Laddies” provided by Greg and Janice Olmstead, who seemed as if they may have also had previous experience in toasting the timeless conflict of perspectives between men and their female counterparts. The toasts were offered with affection, irony, a hint of sarcasm, and humor. Greg’s opening toast ended with a nod to the “lassies’ chassis” leading to much a raised toasting glass going bottoms up.

Above, Greg Olmstead concludes his ‘Toast to the Lassies’ leading to a rousing cheer from the men (some of whom stood); and bottom, Janice Olmstead returns the favor with an equally tongue-in-cheek ‘Toast to the Laddies’ present.

Janice’s stirring response to her husband culminated with a call for the ladies to rise for their “Toast to the Laddies” got one anonymous lassie present to comment, “Why, they didn’t stand for us” – followed by cheers, toasts, standing, sitting and a rousing good time had by all those laddies and lassies present.

And so it was on February 1, 2020, a month to the day plus 224 years after Burns’ death on January 1, 1796 at the age of 37.

Aye, ye died far too young, beloved “Rabbie” Burns – but your words penned in over 500 poems and song lyrics keep you with us to this day and beyond.

Salute the Bard of Scotland!!!

A standing ovation, well deserved for the Sean Heely Celtic Trio and Scottish Bard Robert Burns.

The Blue Wing Frog owners Robert Hall and Kelly Sprague, far left, acknowledge their staff for a job well done as the evening wound down.

And Hall singles out Sprague for her yeoman’s work in the kitchen, including preparation of the haggis.

After leader Sean Heely switches to his ‘fat’ mandolin, his trio launched into some of their ‘fiery dance tunes and ancient soaring melodies’ of the Celtic variety, to an appreciative audience.

And the Olmsteads illustrate that their marriage survived their dueling tongue-and-cheek Toasts to the Lassies and Laddies – well done, table partners.

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37th Anniversary of National Night Out to be held on October 6th

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On Tuesday, October 6, 2020, citizens throughout Front Royal are invited to join forces with thousands of communities nationwide for the “37th Anniversary of National Night Out” (NNO) crime and drug prevention event. National Night Out, is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW) and co-sponsored locally by the Front Royal Police Department and the Front Royal Police Foundation.

“We look forward to hosting this great event every year, but due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns, we have had to cancel the “block party” style event that we usually hold on the Town Commons,” said Front Royal Chief of Police Kahle Magalis. “This year we are going to take National Night Out mobile and caravan to different locations throughout the town and meet up with our citizens in smaller groups in areas where we can practice social distancing.”

We will host neighborhood visits throughout the Town with police officers, foundation members, and our other law enforcement partners. The evening will begin at the Front Royal Police Department with opening remarks starting at 5:00pm and the start of the parade at 5:20pm. The route will continue through town and will utilize 5 stopping points along the route and conclude at the Town Gazebo at 8:00pm.

National Night Out showcases the vital importance of police-community partnerships and citizen involvement in our fight to build a safer nation. “Events like National Night Out are necessary to help strengthen the partnerships between the community and law enforcement,” said Brendan Murphy, Front Royal Police Foundation Vice Chair. This is the police department’s fourteenth year hosting NNO and without this partnership, law enforcement’s battle against crime would be limited.

Please watch for more information about times and locations on our numerous social media outlets.

Lastly, stop by the Front Royal Police Department and pick up blue lightbulbs and thin blue line flags, while supplies last, to help show your support during the parade!

Parade Route Stops

5:00 – 5:20  Front Royal Police Department
5:30 – 5:50 Warren County Skate Park
6:00 – 6:20 Ressie Jeffries Elementary School
6:30 – 6:50 Warren County High School
7:15 – 7:35 Marlow Heights Baptist Church
7:45 – 8:15 Town Gazebo

Route:

FRPD, R on Virginia Ave, L on 1st, R on Union, R on W. Main, SKATE PARK, R on Kerfoot to W. Criser to E. Criser, L into RESSIE JEFFRIES, R on Beeden, L on Hill, R on South St., L on Westminster to WCHS, L on Westminster, R on Walker, L on John Marshall, L on Leach Run, L on Oden, L on Ewell, R on Imboden, R on Happy Ridge, L on Goodview, L on Meadow Court, R on Lewis, L on Happy Creek, L on Manassas Ave to MARLOW HEIGHTS BAPTIST CHURCH, L on Happy Creek to Laura Virginia Hale into TOWN GAZEBO.

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Garden clubs unite at Milldale home’s yard described as ‘heaven on earth’

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The bi-annual “greening” party celebrating another period of successes by the “Beautification of Front Royal Committee (BFRC)” was, last weekend, held at a Warren County home with a garden described variously as “gob smacking,” “heaven on earth,” “stunning” and “overwhelming” by many who attended.

Some 35 guests at the Milldale Valley Court home of hosts Sheron and John Piazza on September 19, shared their delight at the garden surrounding their home from the curbside mailbox to the tiered koi ponds in back that feature some 4,000 plants – yes, 4,000! –  flowers, fruit and ornamental trees, bushes, and other horticultural wonders that left the celebrants and other guests gasping with their superlatives.

Above, colorful flower beds and greenery great the visitor at the house’s front door; below, what will we find behind the gate? Courtesy Photos – John & Sheron Piazza

The garden was designed by retired landscaper Sheron Piazza who described it as a “culmination of a lifetime of experience, hard work, starts and stops, planning, re-planning, love, blood and tears.” She thanked her husband “for all his encouragement and support.”

“We did it!” she exclaimed.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words …

But this might be the ‘heaven on earth’ shot …

But I don’t want to leave.

What is the BFRC? It is a composite of four Warren County garden clubs: the Garden Club of Front Royal, the South River Garden Club, the Valley Garden Club and the Garden Club of Warren County, which led by the latter, set out to beautify their town and county 18 years ago, raising and spending a quarter million dollars in the process.

Most obvious to county and town residents, and tourists alike, are the hanging baskets downtown and the flowers that go in them. The baskets led BFRC to an agreement with the Town of Front Royal for town employees to keep them consistently watered up to and through the fall.

Less obvious but still part of a large planting program are BFRC’s tree plantings, 800 of them, and the planting of numerous shrubs, flowers, and bulbs.

Downtown Front Royal’s characteristic hanging flower baskets and ‘Tree City USA’ trees – what’s not to LOVE, with a nod to the Beautification of Front Royal Committee.

According to Lorraine Hultquist, president, and Fred Andreae, vice president, in a listing of accomplishments through the years, the plantings help remove pollution from air and water, reduce runoff, and attract tourists by providing shade during the summer and “bring enjoyment to all who live and work here.”

“Economic opportunity is enhanced in well landscaped communities,” Hultquist and Andreae wrote in a recent report.

While most planting projects have concentrated on the main corridors through the town, trees have also been planted at the Peyton Street parking lot; Samuels Public Library; along Virginia Avenue, and in the South Town neighborhood and Burrell Brooks Park.

In past years, BFRC replaced all the pear trees along Main Street and provided park benches and planters in the Gazebo/Village Commons area.

In addition, over the past decade the committee has provided $24,500 in scholarships to graduating seniors from Warren County and Skyline High Schools, specifically for students wishing to pursue careers in landscape architecture, forestry and environmental studies.

Its Biennial party is one of several functions that help raise the funds necessary to continue the committee’s work. The BFRC’s plan for the upcoming year is to begin improving the landscape of Warren County’s elementary schools beginning with E. Wilson Morrison at its prominent downtown location off Crescent Street, as well as continuing various planting projects.

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LFCC and Eastern Mennonite University sign transfer agreement

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A new agreement between LFCC and Eastern Mennonite University creates pathways for transfer students to earn a bachelor’s degree in leadership and organizational management without having to travel to the Harrisonburg university.

After students graduate from LFCC, they can complete the 15-month, four-semester program, gaining skills in organizational development, team dynamics, human resources and leadership.

The unique format, in which students move through the program in a cohort of 12-15 classmates, increases academic success and retention, according to Margo McIntire, program director at EMU. The students and faculty build a learning community which supports them throughout their enrollment.

The first cohort, forming for a January start, will take courses fully online until public health recommendations allow for in-person classes. Normally, the program uses a hybrid model: students would attend class one night per week on the LFCC campus, with other coursework online.

“This is another opportunity to work with EMU to provide students in our service region with an extremely convenient pathway to a bachelor’s degree that many probably would not otherwise feel is a realistic option,” said Dr. James Gillispie, LFCC dean of the School of Humanities and Social Studies. “The fact that students can attend EMU regularly without going to EMU is such a great benefit and path to get a four-year degree without leaving home.

“I think this will be a wonderful way for students in our area to get that degree they need to make a better life for themselves and their families. I thank all the people at EMU for all their help in getting this plan ready to roll out.”

David Brubaker, dean of EMU’s School of Social Sciences and Professions in which the Leadership and Organizational Management degree program is housed, noted the collaboration with LFCC administrators. “What most impressed me about working with LFCC leadership was their shared commitment to make creative options available to their students and alums in order to strengthen their career prospects.”

Students who have completed LFCC’s business administration, management, accounting, computer and information technology, and human services or other related programs and meet admissions criteria will be guaranteed admission to EMU’s program.

Additionally, students having completed other associate of arts and sciences degrees or associate of science degrees, or earning 48 or more transferable semester hours, will also be guaranteed admission provided they meet admission criteria.

Applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • 48 or more transferable semester hours,
  • cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher, 23 years of age or older,
  • at least one year of full-time work experience, preferably incorporating some leadership experiences, and
  • completion of EMU’s fee-waived application process.

LFCC students who want to take advantage of this opportunity should contact their LFCC advisor to make sure their academic plans meet EMU requirements.

Students can further maximize their savings by learning more about financial aid opportunities through EMU’s Financial Aid office. Transfer students are eligible for several grants and scholarships.

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Local ‘Save Our Children’ efforts focus on substantial issues rather than conspiracy theories

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On Friday, September 18, “Save Our Children Front Royal” held the first of a series of planned events to bring attention to a perceived gap in the state or U.S. Justice systems that many feel “under-punishes” convicted pedophiles. The late afternoon march assembled at the Warren County Government Center around 5:30 p.m. proceeded down Commerce Avenue and Water Street to the Front Royal Village Commons/Gazebo area and circled back on Chester and Second Streets to the government center.

Neely and Charles Bettis man the ‘Save Our Children’ paraphernalia stand; and below, conduct a little business awaiting the return of marchers to the WCGC starting point. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Organizer Brittany Lewis says the march and coming events are designed “to bring awareness to child abuse and sex trafficking” issues. She stressed that “Save Our Children Front Royal” is not associated with recent efforts of the factually-discredited Q-Anon political conspiracy theory group to latch onto the ‘#saveourchildren’ logo to its own ends, or for that matter to the 1970s origin of the slogan in Florida tied to an anti-gay agenda celebrity Anita Bryant served as the spokesperson for.

“No, when I was starting this up someone asked about that and I had to tell them I wasn’t with those groups. I put ‘Front Royal’ on at end … to try and distance us from that,” Lewis told Royal Examiner.

Rather, “Save Our Children Front Royal” is born of experience closer to home. That experience was her becoming aware of a young child’s abuse locally and deciding that abuse was too close to home. And while the alleged perpetrator has been arrested and is awaiting trial, it is the end result of such prosecutions on pedophile charges that Lewis says is one of the primary reasons she began “Save Our Children Front Royal”.

The ‘Save Our Children Front Royal’ march proceeds through the Village Commons amongst other dueling events and prepares to turn up Chester St. to return to the WCGC starting point.

“The average jail sentence is 3-1/2 years,” she said of pedophile convictions.

And for Lewis, and others rallying to her cause, that is not enough time behind bars for the sexual victimization of her or any of our society’s children.

Upcoming events include a “Paint Night” fundraiser for the Laurel Center for victims of sexual abuse that will be held in the Washington Suite of the Blue Ridge Shadows Holiday Inn on October 11, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and another march on October 24, slated to begin at 10 a.m. at the WCGC parking lot.

For further information see the “Save Our Children Front Royal” Facebook page or contact Brittany Lewis by email at brilewis91@aol.com or by phone at (540) 692-9893.

Marchers, including several sporting ‘#save our children’ logos, make their way through a crowded Commons area. News reports in recent months, including the NY Times, have commented on the Q’Anon conspiracy theory group’s attempts to ‘hijack’ the ‘#saveourchildren’ slogan to their own ends. ‘Save Our Children FR’ organizer Brittany Lewis has distanced her local efforts from such conspiracy theories, focusing on more substantial issues like pedophile sentencing ranges.

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VOA reports worldwide from Front Royal on the death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ginsburg

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A visitor to Front Royal last weekend (September 18-19) could provide a footnote to the history of our town.

A guest of ours, Steve Herman, now living in Alexandria and working out of the White House, is the Voice of America’s (VOA) bureau chief in Washington. After connecting through the AP Retirees online bulletin, Herman brought his wife, Rosyla, specifically to attend the weekly “Yappy Hour” on Main Street Friday evening, September 18.

Rosyla loves dogs!

It was to be a relaxing weekend for the Hermans. Or so the busy journalist had planned. I’d advised him of our weekly Wagner Animal Shelter fundraiser a few weeks ago and it caught the eye of his wife who agreed to, or perhaps proposed, the overnight trip.

It began as a relaxing ‘Yappy Hour’ gathering for Malcolm and Carol Barr and guests Steve and Rosyla Herman, along with the Barr’s Husky Diva. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

We made it a meet and greet with local reporters Roger Bianchini (Royal Examiner) and Josh Gully (late of the NV Daily). Herman, 60, and me, 87, worked at different times for The Associated Press, me in the U.S., Herman in cities throughout Asia.

Events changed quickly for our guest when news of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death came up on his phone while we were socializing at ViNoVa’s outdoor “Yappy Hour” seating.

Saturday over lunch Herman told us that after returning to their Remount Road B&B Friday night, “BBC World TV rang him” asking if he could appear live, “preferably from the White House, to discuss how the associate justice’s death would affected the (U.S.) election.”

That eventually changed for Steve after news of the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg broke over his phone during Yappy Hour. (MSNBC broadcast pictured on writer’s TV later that evening)

With no time to return to Washington, Herman said he went on the air via Skype on a slow-speed Internet connection from his Front Royal B&B bedroom to carry his VOA bureau chief report to BBC World’s international audience. Routinely, his VOA broadcasts are translated into 47 languages for 350 million people through a network of more than 2,500 local broadcast affiliates. He said he did his reporting sitting on the floor using a mid-19th century fireplace as a backdrop for his appearance on BBC’s worldwide broadcast.

Is that another first for Front Royal, a town of many firsts recorded since the Civil War? Maybe so. Local historians take note.

We invited Steve and Rosyla back to Warren County for “another relaxing weekend” where Rosyla fell in love – with our dog, the rescue Siberian husky, Diva (hamming it up in accompanying photos).

Diva may be alerting Steve, phone in hand, that it will soon be time to get back to work. With her own British connections, Diva may have been anticipating Steve’s call from BBC World for comment on Ginsburg’s death.

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Virginia Beer Museum marks 4 years of celebrating state’s brewing history

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On Saturday, September 19, the Virginia Beer Museum cut the cake on its fourth anniversary of lauding, not only the Commonwealth’s current barley crop of crafted beers, but noted Virginians like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to Virginia and the American colonies history of brewing their way right up to independence.

Virginia Beer Museum proprietor David Downes gets ready to cut the 4th Anniversary cake with the assistance of Helltown Saloon barkeep Winter Leigh, right, and Wendie Mather. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

And that’s something worth raising a glass of fine Virginia-brewed beer to – the museum’s fourth and America’s history of a march toward “all men created equal” under the law celebrated every 4th – of July. Keep the faith in that march, kids – someday.

The appropriately named Play the Changes band mixed classic rock covers and original material to an enthusiastic crowd spanning a several generation gap that appeared to agree that BEER was the vote to make, at least for those of age that Saturday evening in Historic Downtown Front Royal, Virginia.

Musical entertainment was provided by Play the Changes, above on stage; and below between sets sporting their new ‘Vote BEER’ T-shirts. For those interested, Downes ‘BEER Party’ platform is: Better government Encouraging cooperation Emphasizing non-partisan politics Responsible government.

Check the band out on its Facebook page and website.

And check the Virginia Beer Museum out on Facebook and at its website.

Play the Changes played to an appreciative audience, largely gathered under the big top as the sun set toward some plummeting crisp, Fall temperatures. Get near those space heaters!

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