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How to choose the perfect Christmas tree

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Do you love seeing and smelling a real Christmas tree in your home? If so, here are some tips for choosing the perfect one.

Determine what size
Choose a spot in your home to place your tree and don’t forget to measure it to make sure you don’t come home with one that’s too tall. The spot you select should be away from air vents so that the tree doesn’t prematurely dry out.

Choose the tree

To choose the right tree, look for one with needles that are shiny and uniformly green. When you crush the needles between your fingers, they should release a strong, fresh scent. Lift the tree and make sure that it’s heavy, that the needles stay on and that the trunk is slightly sticky.

Care for the tree
Store your tree outdoors or in the garage until you’re ready to decorate it. Right before you do, cut about an inch of the trunk off the bottom. This will allow your tree to soak up the water it needs to thrive indoors.

Put your tree in the stand and fill the basin with water. Make sure to add water daily so your tree doesn’t dry up. Wait a few hours for the branches and needles to settle before you start decorating.

A dry Christmas tree is a fire hazard. To minimize the risk, make sure to give it enough water, keep it far from the fireplace and use lights that don’t emit heat.

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Happy New Year, 2020

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Let the bells ring, and the cannon fire!

Happy New Year to all.

January 1 is the first day of the Gregorian calendar year. It’s a public holiday in the U.S. and many other countries. Traditionally, it is a day when people analyze their lives and decide what changes or improvements they want to make in the coming year.

This day has been observed as New Year’s Day in most English-speaking countries since the British Calendar Act of 1751. Before that time, the New Year began on March 25, approximately the date of the vernal equinox.

On January 1, the Earth begins another orbit of the sun, during which it will travel about 583,416,000 miles in 365.2422 days.

In some countries, New Year’s Day is called “Everyman’s Birthday,” and everyone becomes one year older on this day rather than on the anniversary of their birth.

In the U.S., many people encourage fate to bring them good luck in the coming year by eating “lucky” foods. Some like corned beef and cabbage. Many think black-eyed peas or red beans and rice will do the trick.

Whatever you believe, here’s hoping you have a new year filled with love, luck, and prosperity!

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Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with kids

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On January 20, Americans across the country will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday presents a unique opportunity to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader and to follow his example by volunteering. However, for those with children, it’s also an opportunity to help kids understand why it’s more than a day off school. Here are some ways you can share the day with them.

Read to them
There are a number of accessible biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. Reading one with your kids is a great way to teach them about the civil rights movement and, depending on their age, to help them develop their understanding of the ongoing civil rights struggles taking place in America today.

Make a themed craft
For younger or more artistically-minded kids, try creating artwork centered around a theme like peace, diversity, acceptance or generosity. These values are all central to MLK Jr.’s legacy. You could create peace signs, doves or garlands made up of diverse people holding hands.

Attend events
Bring your kids to museums and libraries holding events for the holiday. These institutions often have activities for younger kids while providing informative installations for older children and teenagers. Some places also hold parades and marches you can attend.

Watch the “I have a dream” speech
If your kids are older, watch the speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a timeless articulation of his message and watching it presents an opportunity for you and your kids to discuss how the speech continues to be relevant today. Perhaps it’ll even provide insight into ways they could volunteer.

Exposing young people to the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. is a key way to help keep his message alive. This year, take a bit of time to share his insight and wisdom with your children.

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To resolve or not: New Year promises and their critics

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Making New Year’s resolutions is a tradition, of sorts, but a much maligned tradition through the years.

In 1908, the Lawrence Weekly World opined that any day would be good for a resolution but since New Year Resolutions were a custom, people should not be ‘laughed out of adopting one.’

“May be you will be able to keep them. At any rate, you will be better for trying.”

In 1916, the Mansfield Mirror In Mansfield, MO., pointed out that while it is fashionable to joke about resolutions, there’s no date better than Jan. 1, unless you do it on your birthday.

“A man who makes ten New Year’s resolutions, every one of them good, and breaks nine, is better off than if he made none at all.”

In the 1926, the Brooklyn Eagle (clipped by Newspapers.com) wrote that New Year customs have fallen on hard times, since customs used to be sensible and useful. In ancient England, everyone cleaned out their chimney. And, according to the paper, in China and Japan, everyone paid their debts.

But, in Paris, according to the Brooklyn paper, fashionable people drove their fashionable carriages throughout the city just for fun. Meanwhile, beggars fleeced everyone else.

Fortunately, the Brooklyn paper did find someone sensible to talk about resolutions. Chauncey Depew, an officer of the New York Central Railroad, said only two resolutions should be made:

“It would be a wise plan if a man and his wife should make some sort of pledge to each other every year — that’s a contract and I believe a good thing. And everybody on New Year’s Day ought to say that, ‘With God’s help, I will meet all obligations for the coming year in a way which He will approve.’

The new year always looks shiny and new, wrote Brooklyn columnist Mignon Rittenhouse almost 100 years ago, but watch out! Looks are deceptive and before you know it that unsoiled year is full of follies and foolishness.

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Mistletoe winds its way through human history

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Being kissed under the mistletoe has been a Christmas tradition for more than a thousand years. But mistletoe is not only associated with a gentle kiss, it has a lore all its own.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that lives off trees. It has attracted human attention for thousands of years because, in the depth of winter, it is green. That made it a natural for legend and ritual, especially fertility rituals.

The actual kissing under the plant may have begun with the Greeks in their agricultural festival, according to The Wall Street Journal, but its kissing properties continue to this day where, as the old song puts it, we can see mama kissing Santa Claus.

To the ancient Scandinavians, mistletoe symbolized peace. Enemies meeting under the mistletoe declared a truce until the following day. On a more domestic note, disgruntled spouses kissed and made up under the greenery.

The Druids believed mistletoe possessed magical powers. Their priests cut the plant with golden sickles and gathered the trimmings on white cloth so the plant would never touch the earth and lose its enchantment.

The French didn’t like it. They said mistletoe was cursed because it grew on the wood from which the cross of Christ was made and that it was doomed to be a rootless parasite forever.

In the Middle Ages, mistletoe was hung from ceilings in Europe to ward off evil, or it was dangled over doors to prevent the entrance of witches. If mistletoe was suspended over a crib, the child was said to be safe from kidnapping.

Viking lore describes the goddess of love, Frigga, who made each plant and animal promise not to kill her son Baldur. She forgot the mistletoe plant and Baldur was killed by a spear made from it.

The white berries on the mistletoe are said to have been created from her tears.

When her son returned to life, Frigga proclaimed the mistletoe to be sacred. She kissed everyone who passed under it and decreed the plant should henceforth bring love. This is said to be the origin of kissing under the mistletoe.

So go ahead. Kiss under the mistletoe, have fun doing it, and give a nod to Frigga for starting a very enjoyable custom.

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In 1776, the fate of America turned on the Christmas Crossing

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Famous painting by George Caleb Bingham of the Christmas Crossing. Created about 1856.

At Christmastime in 1776, George Washington’s troops were in retreat, barely keeping ahead of the Redcoats. The Revolution was in great danger of collapsing.

Washington’s troops had reached Trenton on the Delaware River on Dec. 2. Gathering every boat they could find so the British couldn’t follow, they crossed the river into Pennsylvania.

Washington expected the British to attack when the river froze, but they delayed.

The American troops were described by an enemy officer as “dying of the cold, without blankets, and very ill-supplied with provisions.” Meanwhile, some 1,000 Hessians, German professional soldiers, had arrived in Trenton.

With morale crumbling, one fiery supporter of the Revolution refused to despair. Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, had written a new essay, the first in a series he called The American Crisis. It was published on Dec. 19. The troops were inspired as they read:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Washington formed an audacious plan. He would cross the Delaware some nine miles north of Trenton and surprise the garrison. The Hessian commander said the Patriots were just farmers, and he never prepared for an attack.

The crossing began at 6 p.m. on Dec. 25. After nine hours, the last boatload of men and cannons were on the shore. Then came the nine-mile ordeal through freezing wind and hail to reach Trenton.

Washington and his men attacked the Hessians shortly after dawn, surprising them completely. It was over in two hours with nearly 900 taken prisoner. The Americans suffered few casualties.

The Christmas victory at Trenton marked a turning point of the American Revolution. The effect on troop morale was tremendous, because they had taken on the King’s forces and won. As word of the victory spread, confidence in Washington and in the Revolution was revived. Once written off as beaten, Americans fought on and won.

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The Wonderful World of Rudolpha: Rudolpha at the general store

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Rudolpha the reindeer, teacher at the North Pole Animal Day Care, is shopping. As she enters the general store, the owner, Chatty the elf greets her.

“Rudolpha, my dear, what brings you in today?”

“Hi Chatty! I’m looking for craft supplies to make Santa Clauses with the children this week.”

“Wonderful, wonderful. I’ll let you take a look around. Let me know if you need anything.” The shopkeeper is never able to keep quiet for long though. As Rudolpha heads to the crafting section, he says, “I think I’m going to sell the store.”

“Really?” asks Rudolpha who can’t imagine the kind old elf without his shop.

“Yes. I’m getting older, and running a business is hard work. The only thing that I’ll miss is chatting with my wonderful customers. I suppose I’ll get to hang out at the Holly Cafe more often. Although Moka may get tired of me spending all my time in her coffee shop,” Chatty laughs.

Rudolpha smiles, imagining Moka the elf, owner of the cafe, watching Chatty talking to her customers.

“I’m going to have to start emptying the back of the store,” continues Chatty. “That’s going to be a lot of work.”

“What do you keep back there?” asks the teacher.

“Just a bunch of old junk that can’t be sold.”

“Could I take a look?”

“Of course,” says Chatty, opening the door with a theatrical flourish, “take anything you like.”

The reindeer feels like she’s entered Ali Baba’s cave of wonders. Everywhere she turns are mountains of forgotten items. Here a pile of ripped blankets, there some necklaces with broken clasps. On the shelves are toys with missing pieces. Against the wall are mismatched pairs of skis. In the back are big buckets with holes in the bottom.

Rudolpha is thrilled. She picks up some chipped square bowls, a reindeer toy that’s missing half its stuffing, wrinkled blue tissue paper, frayed white ribbon and two elf dolls, one that’s missing a hat and the other with only one shoe.

“What are you going to do with all that?” asks Chatty as Rudolpha re-enters the store.

“Make a model of the North Pole! It’ll be an even better project for the kids than making Santas. We’ll make some repairs and the children can collect pinecones. Once that’s done, we’ll have everything we need to make Christmas trees, houses, streams and snowy roads. The reindeer and the elves can be our characters.”

“What a wonderful idea. I should have let you into the backroom long ago. Feel free to return any time you need materials.”

“Thanks! I’m sure I’ll be back soon.”

Thinking about all the things she might do with the items in Chatty’s back room, Rudolpha happily makes her way home.

Written by Johannie Dufour and Sarah Beauregard
Translated by Cyan Caruso-Comas

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Upcoming Events

Jan
20
Mon
9:00 am Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast @ Esbie Baptist Church
Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast @ Esbie Baptist Church
Jan 20 @ 9:00 am – 11:00 am
Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast @ Esbie Baptist Church
Monday, January 20, 2020, starting at 9:00am, Esbie Baptist Church will be having their annual MLK Prayer Breakfast. The speaker of the hour will be Rev. Dr. Donald Reid, Pastor of Mt. Parah Baptist Church[...]
Jan
21
Tue
2:30 pm Inspiring speaker Rodney Smith t... @ Boggs Chapel at Randolph-Macon Academy
Inspiring speaker Rodney Smith t... @ Boggs Chapel at Randolph-Macon Academy
Jan 21 @ 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Inspiring speaker Rodney Smith to visit R-MA @ Boggs Chapel at Randolph-Macon Academy
On Tuesday, January 21st, at 2:30 pm, in Boggs Chapel at Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), the public is invited to be inspired by Rodney Smith, a man who has chosen to make a difference in the[...]
4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 21 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, January 7 – Based on books about Balto, we will learn more about service dogs this week. For ages[...]
Jan
22
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 22 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 18 and Thursday, December 19: Something we all enjoy this time of year is giving and receiving gifts. Our stories, songs, and craft will[...]
Jan
23
Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 23 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 18 and Thursday, December 19: Something we all enjoy this time of year is giving and receiving gifts. Our stories, songs, and craft will[...]
Jan
24
Fri
9:00 am Veterans Services Meeting at Abl... @ Able Forces
Veterans Services Meeting at Abl... @ Able Forces
Jan 24 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Veterans Services Meeting at Able Forces @ Able Forces
Able Forces Foundation will once again be hosting a visit by Andre Miller, Resource Specialist, Virginia Veteran and Family Support, Department of Veteran Services, Commonwealth of Virginia, and Danielle Cullers, Homeless Veteran Advocate-Volunteers of America[...]
Jan
25
Sat
11:00 am Goldilocks and the Three Bears @ Samuels Public Library
Goldilocks and the Three Bears @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 25 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Goldilocks and the Three Bears @ Samuels Public Library
A Story Ballet. Join us in a celebration of classic literature through dance! The whole family will enjoy this ballet performance, presented by the Northern Virginia Academy of Ballet.
2:00 pm Aspiring Artists @ Samuels Public Library
Aspiring Artists @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 25 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Aspiring Artists @ Samuels Public Library
Are you aged 7 or older? Do you enjoy art? If so, please join us for our children’s art class. Using the classic scissor cutting art of Scherenschnitte, we will make silhouettes in a nature[...]
Jan
28
Tue
4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 28 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, January 7 – Based on books about Balto, we will learn more about service dogs this week. For ages[...]
Jan
29
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 29 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 18 and Thursday, December 19: Something we all enjoy this time of year is giving and receiving gifts. Our stories, songs, and craft will[...]