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Call to Action: Volunteers Needed as ESOL & Citizenship teachers

Call to Action 

· Good morning . . . Happy New Year!  Many of us make New Year Resolutions – how about this one: Resolve to Volunteer in the New Year. I can’t think of a better way to meet like- minded people, make friends, and do good in your community. It is a win/win for everyone. There is a great deal of power when one unites with another to champion a cause. You can make a difference and here is a list to get you started:

· Literacy Volunteers of America-Prince William needs you to help an adult learn to read and write. The next Tutor Training Workshop is January 11, 2014 9am to 4pm and January 25, 2014, 9am to noon. There is a one-time fee of $35 for materials. Imagine the difference you can make in someone’s life! Contact at lvapw@aol.com.

· Keep Prince William Beautiful will conduct their quarterly litter survey as required for their membership in Keep America Beautiful on Wednesday, January 15 from 8:45am to 1:00pm. Surveys are conducted from a temperature controlled van and lunch is provided afterward. Volunteers will meet at 4939 Ridgewood Center Dr., Woodbridge, VA and will receive a brief training. Please email info@kpwb.org to sign-up and learn more!

· There will be a free tax preparation site for low income residents at the Ferlazzo Building from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays starting in late January and running until April 12 . . . but only if a Volunteer Site Coordinator can be found. Please contact Mary at Mary.Enure@fairfaxcounty.gov or James at James.Do@fairfaxcounty.gov if you can fill this need.

· Contact Coleen at RSVP chersson@volunteerprincewilliam.org if you can drive a cancer patient from Manassas Park to Gainesville for radiation treatments. The treatments are daily for the next 33 days at 10:15am and a ride home is needed as well. Please consider signing-up for a few days and Coleen will work her magic to get it all scheduled.

· BEACON Adult Literacy program is looking for ESL teachers for the adult students. No experience is needed because their training will give you all the skills needed to make a monumental impact on another person’s life. Classes are held both mornings and evenings, Monday through Friday. Please visit their website at: www.beaconliteracy.org for more info.

· The Prince William Area Agency on Aging – Woodbridge area needs a volunteer for the Adult Day Care Center in Woodbridge. You will answer phones, direct messages, receive participants and visitors, pick-up and drop off mail, make copies, etc. Hours are 10am to 6pm Monday through Friday. A yearly TB test is required (have initial chest x-ray if results exhibit a false positives, followed by yearly screening done by a medical person) Call Melodee for more details: 703-792-4583.

· The Prince William Area Agency on Aging – Manassas area needs a volunteer to be a friendly visitor for a male shut-in. He needs a cherry visitor who can help him read his mail. Contact Barbara at 703-792-7175.

· Catholic Charities has a couple of programs for the immigrant community. Volunteers are needed in both Manassas and Woodbridge as ESOL and Citizenship teachers. Training and all the materials are provided. This is a unique opportunity. Please call (571) 208-1572 for all the specifics.

· SERVE has an URGENT need for volunteer drivers for the Food Distribution Center on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Drivers take the SERVE vans to area grocery stores and restaurants to pick-up donated food and then return to SERVE for unloading and distribution. You must be at least 21 years old with a clean driving record. Contact Jan at jhawkins@nvfs.org

· First Home Alliance has a fun opportunity for volunteers to help them produce a video campaign on all their services to first time homebuyers and distressed homeowners. So if you have any knowledge of video productions please give them a call at (703) 580-8838 ext. 23 to learn more.

· The Brain Injury Services is looking for a special volunteer who is a graduate of Columbia University in New York to visit a gentleman in his 90’s who is also a graduate and taught at Columbia. This gentleman lives in Fairfax would love to chat a couple of times a month about New York, Columbia and politics. If you are this special volunteer please call Michelle at (703) 451-8881 ext. 232 to learn more.

· ACTS is entering their very busy season at their Thrift Store in Dumfries. Volunteers are needed Tuesday thru Saturday to greet donors and help them unload their car. This is a bustling place and promises to be fun for all the volunteers. Please visit their website at www.actspwc.org to complete your volunteer application form. This sounds like a great job for teens.

· ACTS Food pantry in Dumfries needs volunteer drivers on Saturday and Sunday mornings to pick-up food donations from area grocery stores. It’s a quick 3 hour shift from 9am-noon to give families needed food from extra supplies. Please call Robin at (703) 441-8606 ext. 213 to learn more.

· Last but certainly not least! Volunteer Prince William is hosting Volunteer Management Training series in January and February. Come hone your skills as a professional volunteer manager in this 6 week program. We will meet every Thursday beginning January 9th from 9am-11am in Dale City. Topics covered include: understanding volunteering, planning your program, recruiting and placing volunteers, training and orienting volunteers, supervising volunteers to maximize their experience and evaluating your program. This training program is free and promises to be worth your time and talent investment. Please visit our website to register: www.volunteerprincewilliam.org

· If you are looking for other opportunities, please don’t forget to call my wonderful team at Volunteer Prince William. Coleen can help you with the Retired and Senior Volunteer (RSVP) opportunities at (703) 369-5292 ext. 207, Shelley can help with any individual or group project and send you weekly updates if you’d like. Shelley is at (703) 369-5292 ext. 201, and Bonnie can help you with opportunities available in Disaster Preparedness at (703) 369-5292 ext. 202. Please visit our newly re-vamped website at www.volunteerprincewilliam.org. Thanks so much for all you do in our community.

Working Laptop Fails to get Creative Juices Flowing

The laptop is new to me. It was my husband’s, is a few years old, and no longer has enough memory to do what he needs to do. So he bought a new laptop, cleaned this one off, removed his password, and handed it over.

So exciting! I’ve been using my desktop for I don’t even know how many years. Seven? Eight? It’s a workhorse, this old Gateway, and hosts the WiFi router for the whole house as well as the printer. The desktop has stored away years of Christmas card letters, kids’ high school essays, and sports schedule emails … it’s an archive of my family’s history.

And it is slow. Painfully slow. It takes forever to turn on, generally freezes when turning off, and is impossible to use for anything online. I really only need Word and email, though, so it’s worked. My computing needs are not great.

But when my husband offered the laptop, visions of speed and freedom danced in my head. I could work from the comfort of the living room sofa with the TV on, or from the kitchen while I cook dinner! I could watch YouTube videos! I could – gasp – join the 21st century and be mobile! So, yes, please, I told him quickly, and waited impatiently for the day when it was ready to go.

I will be more effective with a laptop, I promised myself. I can research things without needing 30 minutes’ lead time to get the computer on and warmed up. I can write – my columns, and maybe more! I would certainly be more creative with a laptop, able to capture my thoughts and ideas more quickly. Speed and power! I drooled. Yes. My efficiency would soar!

So here it is, finally, my big portable computing moment. My husband leaves the laptop in its pouch on the dining room table and walks away. I approach it nervously, pretending I’m not. I don’t know a thing about setting up the laptop, but I do not want to ask for help. Surely I can figure this out. I know the general parts – power cord, mouse (because the built-in touch pad is quirky and sensitive), machine itself. I open the pouch and pull everything out, then lift open the laptop cover. I look hard at the black surface. There, on top. Isn’t that the power symbol on the small round button? Gingerly I press it, and a blue light! Yes!

OK, then! Confident now, I pick up the power cord. Of course I know the plug end, and into the wall it goes. The other end is round; I check the side of the laptop and, helpfully, there’s only one round hold. Another blue light! Success! As the laptop sings its opening chimes I try the end of the mouse cord in first one rectangular slot – nope – then the other. Yes, that one fits. I move the mouse experimentally, and voila! Cursor control!

Within minutes – and just a few, not the 30 or so I’m used to – the laptop is up and ready, its screen of familiar icons lit and waiting. Ha! I’m going to work right now! In the early evening, in the dining room, while dinner is cooking. I’m going to write, here, capturing the energy and creative juices as they flow, rather than trying to summon them at a prescribed time upstairs in the cold and silent office. I can write, and as needed I can just get up and stir the pasta and come back, and get up and let the dogs out and come back, and get up and check the chicken and come back. Easy.

I am thrilled. Yes, I will do more! I will be faster! I will be more creative! This is fantastic!

So – click – I open Word. I create a blank page. I wait for the words to come. I get up and stir and check the chicken. I come back, and sit and wait for words. I get up and let the dogs out, and back in. I sit back down, and prepare to write. I sit and sit, and no words come.

Hmm. Well, maybe I should get to know this laptop better. What other programs are here? I move the mouse to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. I click on the Windows logo. I scan, and … oh! Games! I shouldn’t, but … look how many! Chess, and Spider Solitaire, and hey! Mahjong Titans! I click and … ohhh. Such a fancy mahjong screen! Eight layout choices, music … well, just for a minute, right, to get the creative juices flowing?

Twenty minutes of Mahjong Titans later, it is clear: the laptop has enriched my life indeed.

Alborn: Fly Fishing Group Meets at Quantico, Gives Vets a Chance to Heal


I am a fly fisherman.

I have been wandering around the Appalachian backcountry for years in search of native Brook Trout in the crystal clear headwaters of mountain streams. It’s a solitary journey that I take to recover from 22 years as a career soldier and another 15 in technology business.

I find that nature and solitude heal the scars that have accumulated on my soul.

That’s why I was intrigued when I started hearing about a project set up by fly fisherman to help fellow Veterans with a few scars on their bodies and minds heal. It’s called Project Healing Waters.

Given the name of the project, I intuitively understood.

There are several programs in the Washington, D.C. area; however, Duber Winters, the Manager of “my” Orvis Store, and Beau Beasley, a fellow outdoor writer, kept point me to the Quantico Program.

I grabbed my camera and headed out on a snowy winter Tuesday night to see what was going on. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I understood that the program was designed to help injured military service personnel and disabled veterans.

Was this going to be “touchy feely” stuff or a bunch of guys telling “war stories?” Maybe it would feel like hanging out at the VFW?

It was none of those things.What I found was a bunch of fly fisherman… doing what fly fisherman do when they aren’t. fishing… talking about fly fishing… and tying flies.

Tonight, they were here to learn how to tie the Original Clouser Deep Minnow.

A few were in uniform, most not. Uniform Blouses were stacked on the sidelines. Rank didn’t matter in this room.

There were a few young active-duty Marines, a few retired service members, some middle age guys, and some fellow “more experienced” (a polite way to say senior citizens) fly fisherman (like me). All were sitting around a table littered with feathers, hooks, thread, and fly tying vices. It was a mixed group of men and women who had all come together for one reason.

I slowly began to understand. These folks. all of them, active duty — veterans — civilian volunteers: all came together for the same reason I head into the woods with my fly rod for a chance to concentrate on something other than the scars on their bodies and souls — for a chance to learn to tie one more fly that they can use on some river or stream, or to seek the therapeutic benefits of being one with nature.

This program wasn’t just about the young Marines — this was about Veterans of all ages, and perhaps those who served in other ways — to forget for a while, and just think about fishing.

Many of us who fly fish long ago came to the realization that our venture into new waters with a rod and a few flies often has little to do with actually catching fish.

These guys have a lot of sponsors big and small. Some folks provide money, others materials, others sweat equity.

Folks like Jim Bensinger, owner of Fiber Flies, was there as a volunteer and materials donor. His son, James (an active duty Marine) was at the table working on a fly.

There will always be a shortage of the money and resources to grow this program to the size necessary to support the veterans returning from today’s wars, and those long forgotten wars from the past. You read the same news I do. Government money just won’t be enough in the future.

There are many good programs out there, but one size doesn’t fit all. Some are better than others. This is one of the good ones. I checked them out (as in “pulled their IRS 990), and noted that they are a well managed, volunteer organization that puts of its money into programs to support veterans.

I write my checks to not-for-profit groups in December. I plan to add Project Healing Waters to my list. You may find many ways to donate here. If you have a special program in your State or community you would like to support, just add its name to the donation.

My donation will go to Project Healing Waters – Quantico. The journey is the reward.

Al Alborn is a Prince William County resident and author of The Virginia Trout Bum.

Kiser: Hope for Fewer I-95 Express Lanes Work Delays in 2014


It’s been a brutal year on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia. Yes, more so than in years past, the delays seemed to rack up on the highway that bridges the gap not only Prince William and Stafford counties but to many jobs many of us commute to in Arlington and Washington, D.C.

For nearly all of us, the highway and its delays are something we’ve become very familiar with.

The Virginia Department of Transportation told us congestion on I-95 would get worse this year, especially during the summer of 2013 when work on the 95 Express Lanes would kick into high gear.

Now in winter and heading into 2014, we can see pavement that has been laid on the new lanes that, when the open in early 2015, will bring an extension of the HOV lanes from Dumfries to Va. 610 in North Stafford. The entire facility will between North Stafford and Esdall Road in Alexandria, and will allow single drivers to pay an electronic toll to use the lanes or occupants in vehicles of three or more to ride free.

And, while that all sounds well and good, it will be even better when the lanes finally open and work-related delays for the Express Lanes project a thing of the past. Even during the holidays, I-95 in our area has been plagued by delays morning, midday, and night as work zones are set up, closing lanes and backing up miles of traffic, in some cases.

So, as we say goodbye to 2013 and welcome 2014 give yourself a pat on the back for putting up with what has been horrendous traffic congestion. And, join me in looking forward to the project’s completion and the opening of the new lanes. Let’s hope they help to improve the awful delays that keep us away from home, family, and life’s activities by giving us another option to get where going just a bit faster.

Moser: As 2013 Leaves, Here’s to Hoping Cancer Doesn’t Return


Have you ever said, “Whew! I’m glad this year is over?” I think that phrase has been uttered by most adults at one time or another. After a string of bad luck, medical crisis or financial meltdown, maybe you were relieved when that hateful year ended. Perhaps you lost a friend or a family member or maybe one of your parents died and you consider that whole year as a devastating loss in your own “Book of Life.”

I imagine you have also experienced wonderful years, filled with promotions and great grades, maybe a wedding or the birth of a new baby. That’s when you look forward to another year and hopes of more of the same grand events.

There are probably some years (more likely if you are middle age or past) that are not really memorable at all. Nothing spectacular occurred to fix that year in your mind good or bad enough to designate a year described as “good” or “bad”.

I have had cancer twice, but both times the treatment was excision, so was spared the more horrible treatment methods used to combat the disease.

One thing cancer breeds is the dread the disease will return. We survivors are continually beset by the knowledge we were lucky once or twice, but maybe three times is too many.

When my mammogram came back last month with “inconclusive results,” I was asked to reschedule for another look. That mammogram showed a “shadow” and the lab requested I return yet again for a sonogram.

As I sat in the cubicle, waiting for results, I remembered being in that dressing room before. There are many curtained “closets” for women to change from their street clothes to a gown, then wait for a technician to bring them the news. I recall hearing women sobbing and the out of control sensation that your entire life is suddenly in the hands of some unknown, unseen force.

After an interminable wait, I had the sonogram and the technician was able to see the “shadow”. It is a cyst, not a tumor and my relief was nearly embarrassing. I hugged this woman, whom I’d only just met and thanked her for her effort.

She was nearly in tears, too, as she said, “Last month, I told my husband I was thinking I should retire. I began this position as an x-ray technician and migrated to sonogram when they were first put to use in cancer detection. In November, nearly every procedure I administered showed cancer. I got into this field because I wanted to help, but I seldom have any good news to report.”

 I went back, got dressed and as I stepped out, I was eager to get the heck out of there, but there was a young woman, seated in the “holding pen” quietly weeping. I sat down to ask her and she told me “I’ve had cancer once….”

Please take a few minutes to watch this video. I shared it with a friend who faced his own struggle with cancer, but it applies to all of us.

Moser: Excessive Government Waste, Spending Makes ‘Me Very Testy’

Last week I wrote a post entitled: Home Values Rebounding, Prince William Needs Housing Solutions. Someone left me a thoughtful comment that included this phrase:

“Those of us in older neighborhoods who were comfortable and safe in our homes for decades and paid mortgage on time had nothing whatsoever to do with the bad mortgage/foreclosure, etc. mess yet our home values have suffered greatly because of the actions of others.”

I am typically ready to share responsibility for our plight with everyone, whether it is government, business or residents. I must say, though, that comment resonated with me, in fact the whole post sounded like the kind of rumble in the back of my head that I hear on a regular basis!

I (and the person who wrote that comment) paid my bills. I made my payments and I went without vacations and I SACRIFICED to pay off all our debts! My husband and I worked long hours and we continue to work for our neighborhood and our community.

It is not my fault there were unscrupulous lenders, nor is it my fault people bought houses they couldn’t afford. It is not my fault that banks won’t keep up their vacant properties and it is not my fault that a large portion of Prince William County residents and a few of our elected officials don’t seem to recognize the plight of people like me and the person who wrote that post.

It is definitely not my fault that sequestration occurred and it certainly isn’t my fault that my husband is still unemployed. Since I’m all riled up now, though, I’m going to blame somebody!

In October, I read a devastating article in the Washington Post about leaving $7 billion worth of equipment behind as we withdraw troops from Afghanistan. (We’re not just leaving it behind, it’s being reduced to scrap!) On Monday, I read another Washington Post article about the Air Force wasting $600 million by retiring a small fleet of planes only six years old and mothballing five more planes that haven’t even been produced yet! Why? The Air Force and the National Guard are having some kind of power skirmish.

Then I read about Senator Coburns’ “Wastebook” where he outlines $30 billion that the government could have saved!

I watched the school board allocate funding for a school that will total in excess of 110 million dollars and require debt service for many years, knowing, the overcrowded classrooms, and low teacher pay will continue.

So let me see if I can explain this in a way that everyone understands. People like me, who have been careful and cautious and thrifty all our lives are now in pretty dire straits. The home that we spent money to purchase, money to remodel and money to preserve is going to contribute very little to our retirement. (Thanks to those low housing values I shared with you last week.)

We didn’t save enough when we were younger because we were busy paying off our bills and our home. We were being responsible.  Now, in the last working years of my husband’s career, when we should be saving nearly every bit of income…there is no income.

So all this waste is making me very testy. I’m having a hard time thinking in terms of sharing the wealth when others are wasting it…and it’s not my fault!

Charitable Donations Replace Christmas Gifts for Adults

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I stand back and look at the tree. My daughter came home unexpectedly for the weekend, so my husband and I took advantage of having a kid present and decorated the house for Christmas. She is in her senior year of college and our son is in his freshman year, and with no other kids at home, my husband and I are having to figure out new processes, new expectations for just about every aspect of life. We’ve got the day-to-day stuff down, but holidays are fresh new ground.

Putting up the tree ourselves didn’t seem right, but setting up during their Thanksgiving visit seemed early, and waiting until they show up a few days before Christmas seemed late. It was convenient that our daughter popped home when she did, two weeks before the big day. My husband hauled up the boxes, and in an hour the deed was done: tree, stockings, wreaths, flags, little Santas and angels sprinkled here and there throughout the downstairs.

Last was the presents, and that’s what I’ve just finished doing. I had wrapped the gifts already, and once the tree was up it took just a minute to transfer them all over.

All of them.

I stand and look for a minute at the tree. This seems … sparse.

“Is that it?” my husband asks, standing next to me and looking.

“Yep,” I say, nodding, arms crossed. “That’s it.”

Beneath the tree: one large-ish box containing the expensive boots our ROTC-obsessed son requested for Christmas. One large-ish box with the camouflage pattern camelback wearable water bottle for my son, from my parents, which my dad had delivered to our house. One small box containing a shirt for our nephew. And one very small box holding a beautiful sparkly bracelet that I picked up for myself for a crazy low price on Black Friday.

“Well, I have two boxes to add for you,” I tell my husband. “They haven’t come in yet.”

“And I’ll have one for you,” he adds.

We stand together, looking at the tree, nodding at this sobering news.

“Do we have anybody else to buy for?” he asks.

“Nope,” I tell him. This year, for the first time ever, we have finally, finally done away with adult gifts for my family. Instead, we are giving charitable donations: “I’ll write up some cards for my parents and sisters, saying what donations we made in their names.” I’m having iTunes gift cards emailed directly to my sister-in-law for our nephew and niece. “We do need to find something for your mom and dad,” I say. He nods … but we both know those will be small, token-type gifts.

But our kids … just last week we gave our daughter cash for a down payment on a car as her Christmas gift. Aside from the boots, we’ll probably give our son some money.

And that’s it! For the first time in 22 years there are no babysitters, no teachers, no coaches for whom to buy gifts. No kids’ friends or even kids’ friends’ parents – other moms and dads who sit on bleachers and serve as back-up cheerleaders and EMTs and couriers – expecting little gifts or cards or homemade cookies.

So beneath our tree is lonely. The years of mountains of brightly wrapped gifts are over. The big toy gifts evolved to small electronics gifts, and those evolved to checks and deposits and down payments on cars. Things too big to fit under the tree.

Until … yeah, I decide, turning firmly away from the tree. I’m going shopping.

Kiser: Facebook Not Always Best Option to See Local News

Relying solely on your Facebook feed for local news about things happening where you live? Don’t be so sure it’s the only place to find what you’re looking for.

A new report from Ignite Social Media says continued to adjustments to Facebook’s news feed algorithm have lead to branded pages, like our Facebook page for Potomac Local News, to be seen by fewer users.

According to the site, some brand pages on Facebook have declines of 44% on average to as much as 88%. This means that fewer organic, or non paid content, from brand pages are showing up less frequently in users’ news feeds.

In 2011, Facebook introduced the option for organizations to pay to have their posts reach more users of the social media service. Nearly all of what we post to our Facebook page is local news, and these posts are all non-sponsored, organic posts to Facebook.

All of this is not to say Facebook is wrong for offering up the option for sponsored content. Potomac Local News also works with small businesses to create sponsored content to be consumed by our readers, on multiple platforms, to help showcase their business or organization.

But an over reliance on Facebook to get all of the great local news and information we post to PotomacLocal.com on a daily basis could mean you’re missing out on knowing what’s happening around your corner.

PotomacLocal.com is designed with you in mind, so we’ve made it easy to log on to our homepage and get the latest local headlines by area in which you live – Prince William, Stafford, or Greater Manassas. Our events calendar is promptly posted at the top right of each page. Slide show galleries and columnists appear on the home page. And, there’s great information from the local advertisers who provide financial support so we can continue covering the news that affects you.

Moser: Home Values Rebounding, Prince William Needs Housing Solutions

In 2007, my nice, middle class neighborhood had begun to deteriorate in obvious ways. Tall grass was everywhere. Houses stood empty. Vandalism and graffiti began to emerge. Prince William County created the Neighborhood Services Division in response to the issues that were arising. I attended my first Neighborhood Leaders Group in 2008, with the hope that I would explain the problems occurring in my neighborhood and the county would fix them. (The county was way ahead of me!)

Most housing in Prince William County has recovered, but my home, here in Lindendale, while it has recovered some value, (from a high of $411,000.00 in 2009 to a miserable $136,000.00 one year later in 2010, to today’s current assessment of $231,000.00) that assessment has gone from being an acceptable median price to a value nearly $100,000.00 BELOW the current median price!

As I watch the birth of a new Woodbridge and the rising of the Potomac Communities, I’m left to wonder what will happen to my neighborhood in Dale City and others like it. I see homes being built in the 22193 zip code, like these beginning at $437,000, and these, ranging from $519,000.00 to $ 670,000.00, and I am grateful these homes are not tax negative constructions. (These higher priced homes pay for services like school, police and fire from their assessed taxes, ergo “tax positive”, as opposed to homes assessed at lower values are “tax negative”. 

Our home is now 37 years old. In most places, that is not particularly old. This page states the average age of homes in all the surrounding counties. Our home is twice the average age for Prince William, but age is not the problem. I tracked those values on Zillow:

Average Sales Price:

  • Manassas (20112)       $427,300.
  • Gainesville (20156)    $424,000.
  • Dumfries (22025)        $336,000.
  • Lake Ridge (22192)     $297,900.
  • Woodbridge (22191)  $264,000.
  • Dale City (22193)        $258,000.

Dale City, and, in fact, most of Prince William County, was built as a bedroom community — a place to escape the crowded cities. That is who we were. Today, with a population of more than 425,000, we need to acknowledge who we are.

We need to search for solutions for aging housing, aging residents, and aging infrastructure. We can’t just continue to build new, ever more expensive homes to attract proffers and increase property taxes. That is not working, as evidenced by the problems we are encountering with our schools.

We need plans to incentivize homeowners to invest in remodeling with low cost or no cost loans. We need improvements to our communities that engender pride of place. While I am delighted to see plans for the magnificent new libraries in Montclair and Gainesville, I know our Dale City Mini Library is about the same square footage as my home and yet serves a population the size of every other magisterial district. (Yes, I know, the Chinn Library and Woodbridge Library are regional libraries and we in the Neabsco District use those.)

Our Dale City Farmers Market has long been a blessing to our community and provided a unique experience since 1987. Last year Occoquan started a Farmers Market and Tackett’s Mill in Lake Ridge will be boasting their own Farmers Market in the spring. You can visit Farmers Markets in Manassas or Bristow. That’s great for residents of those communities, but what will the competition mean to Dale City? One of our only unique assets is no longer unique.

I am grateful for our amenities like the Prince William Ice Center and Waterworks at Andrew Leitch Park. I’m not discounting the value of the Sharon Baucom Dale City Recreation Center. It’s great we have a public pool at Birchdale, but none of those are bringing up our housing values.

I don’t want to whine with “woe is me” theatrics. I just want some ideas that work; some suggestions that will help and some acknowledgement that residents in older communities deserve solutions to the low housing values.

Moser: Why Build More Roads if People are Driving Less?


Do you watch television? I bet you think that’s a funny question. Your response was probably something like, “Of course! Doesn’t everyone?” In fact, last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That 46K is a pretty small percentage of 974,000 new households that were created last year.

That’s not to say people aren’t watching anything that is televised, but it does mean that less people are signing up for traditional subscriptions and more are resorting to services like Netflix or Hulu. I don’t watch regular television at all, but I do watch TED on my computer. I also watch the Prince William Board of County Supervisors meetings.

I found last week’s meeting to be particularly interesting, as the discussion on the Bi-County Parkway resulted in several motions after presentations by county staff and fervent citizens. I’ve avoided making a public statement on this topic because up until this week it seemed to me to be a battle between residents and transportation officials and each side has seemed well armed to make their own arguments. I’ve followed the discussions through “Say No to the Bi-County Parkway” on Facebook and read the prodigious amounts of information sent to my inbox.

I read the blogs, but usually as a kind of barometer to gauge the sentiments of those vocal folks and their admirers and detractors. I don’t usually comment, but if I do, you will always see my name. I made an exception to my “almost never comment” policy when my friend, Al Alborn, made this post.

I was moved to respond, because that post resonated with me. I don’t want to keep doing things the same old way to achieve the same old results. Haven’t you ever asked yourself, “Why, if we keep building roads, does it keep taking longer to get to our destination?” On Al’s blog, I mention self-driving cars and drone package delivery. Transportation is changing. Whether you believe it or not, whether you want it or not transportation is changing.

This story from Grist talks about a decline in driving. This story from the Washington Post states Americans are driving 7.6 percent fewer miles per year than they did in 2004. All across the United States, people are actually driving less miles per year and that’s after removing variables like the recession.

We’re building miles and miles of hiking trails, walking paths and bicycle lanes and guess what? People are using them. People who used to have to drive to an office five days a week can now work from the comfort of their home. There is more public transportation available. The price of cars, insurance, repair costs, gas and time lost in traffic are outweighing the private automobile.

We keep adding roads, lanes, lights, signs and striping…what if we’re doing that all for nothing? Many cities are experimenting with no signals. It sounds inconceivable, but it is certainly working in Poynton, England where they have made an effort to revitalize their community.

The way we build homes changes as we use more Earth-friendly products. The super large houses of the last decade make way for smaller more comfortable homes for today. Cars change, people change, ideas change. Everything changes, whether it’s television, computers, telephones, hair color or road building.

Let’s not build a road that changes nothing but just gives us more of the same.

Trading in the Minivan: A Goodbye That Didn’t Happen

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I have to bend down to get into the little car. I slip my right foot in, swing my rear end in and sit down, then bring my left foot over. I reach out, farther than I expect, and pull the door shut. I ease back into the bucket seat, feel it hug my sides and shoulders, and reach forward with both hands to grip the steering wheel.

This little car is nothing – nothing! – like my minivan.

Wow. My feet are on the pedals, but I haven’t started it up yet. There’s too much to look at! Left hand still on the steering wheel, I reach out with my right and touch the control panel. There, within easy reach, the dial for temperature control, the touch computer screen, the radio and navigation system buttons. I slide my fingers down everything, feeling wonderingly. I drop my hand onto the gear shift knob, sportily set between the seats, not on the steering column.

I pull my hand back onto the steering wheel and look at the dashboard in front of me. Whoo, a tachometer! The minivan didn’t even pretend to have one of those. Its dash just had a speedometer, a fuel gauge, and a temperature readout. I have no idea what to even do with rpm readings.

Finally I press the button – press the button! Ha! – and start the engine. Vroom! With that the computer screen lights up, the dashboard springs to life, and I take the opportunity to test the sunroof. Ha again! I try not to gawk as the beige ceiling slides back, revealing a black glass roof. Then that lifts and pulls back too, and voila! The dealership bay ceiling is visible above me.

I turn and look at my husband in the passenger seat. I can’t help it, I’m grinning. We ordered this car, sight unseen, from a dealership in South Carolina. I had test-driven an older, stick-shift model, but this one is less than a year old, manual transmission, and is fully loaded.

And, mostly, it’s yellow. Bright, shiny, sunny, unavoidable yellow. I have wanted a yellow car for my entire life, and now’s my chance. My kids are both in college, my minivan is on its last legs (well, wheels), and I’m 47. Much older and it will be downright ridiculous to get a yellow car; at least right now it’s just silly. So my co-worker Pete found it online, I had it shipped up, and now here we are! Sitting in it! Right here in real life! I get to test-drive it, of course, I’m not committed to buying this car, but it is so cute, and yellow, and affordable, and we have financing all set, there has to be something seriously wrong with it not to leave here with it tonight.

“Ready to go?” The salesman is squished into the small back seat with my son, home for the Thanksgiving weekend and here to experience his mother driving not-a-minivan. I nod, and slide the gear shift into reverse, then – oooh! – we all stare appreciatively at the computer screen, which magically shows the bay behind us, courtesy of the rear-view camera. No way! I try to steer by the picture but can’t in the end, it’s too unfamiliar, the little car and the camera, and I twist around, peering around the driver’s seat headrest and out the little back window to get a better view.

Away we zip off into the night. First I drive, then my husband has a turn. We drive fast, and slow. We take turns and straightaways, try a U-turn. We play with the radio and the navigation system. And finally we go back to the dealership, where we spend over an hour completing paperwork.

We are on the way home, my husband and I and our son squished into the back seat once again, a sheaf of paperwork in our hands, when I realize: I drove her for more than 11 years, we took her on vacations and to tournaments and practices and grocery store runs. I drove Brownies and Cub Scouts and soccer teams and volleyball players and lacrosse sticks and hockey equipment. The minivan was central to my life, to my kids’ childhoods … and I didn’t even look back to say goodbye.

Moser: Community Associations Play Role in Proffer Negotiations


Some of the many tasks performed by civic associations like LOCCA (Lake Ridge Occoquan Coles Civic Association) or MIDCO (Mid County Civic Association of Prince William) include courtesy review of plans, SUPs (Special Use Permit) and rezoning. These civic associations are volunteer groups, usually (but not always) with officers elected by a general membership.

Most of the civic associations have experts in their groups, with specialties like land use and transportation expertise. Many of these groups are also community stewards, protecting the environment and resources on behalf of their communities.

Some associations have been around a long time, like Dale City Civic Association. Some of our areas overlap as in OLR, (Occoquan Lake Ridge Civic Association.) Some of our districts abut and some of our challenges are the same, yet many of those challenges are unique. WPCCA was established in 2008 to address the Woodbridge and Potomac Communities and NAA was formed to address issues in, but not limited to, the Neabsco district.

There is a CDCA (Coles District Civic Association) that has no physical meetings and there is FOCAL (Federation of Civic Associations for Land use) that is composed of members of several of the above listed groups.

One of the unique conditions we review is proffers. Proffers are cash or non-cash contributions from builders and developers. There is oversight administration of proffers as a part of the Prince William County Planning Office that clearly defines what proffers are, what they are used for, and what benefits they provide.

One of the most interesting documents of all time (if you’re interested in land use) is this one, titled,
Monetary Contributions Report. If you really want to read the 33 pages, though, I recommend you download and save the document, then rotate the “view” feature on your PDF viewer to save your neck from permanent tilt!

One would think the proffer process is very cut and dried, since its acceptance in Prince William County in 1976, but often it is left to the civic associations to “negotiate” proffers, fine tuning what is possible with what is necessary to get the best for our communities.

Trying to explain this proffer process to readers in about 500 words is not going to be possible. I’m likely to bore you. (In fact, I think I found myself nodding off in the midst of this!) So, I recommend you start with an easy example of a courtesy review of an SUP and the ensuing proffer.

Visit our Neabsco Action Alliance web page to view the presentation by Frank Stearns on behalf of AT&T to erect a communications facility (a cell tower) in Keytone Park. By viewing the brief slideshow, you can see what is involved in the SUP. We (NAA and LOCCA) are reviewing the construction of the facility and have been advised by Supervisor Jenkins the proffers are two streetlights for Keytone Rd.

Let me know what you think in the comments or send me an email. You are also welcome to join NAA on December 10th, (7:00 PM in Room 107 A&B, in the Development Services Building, 5 County Complex Court) when we host a courtesy review for a proposed auto sales establishment on Smoketown Rd.

Both these projects are located in the Neabsco District, but we welcome all Prince William County residents to our civic association meetings and we’d like to see many more citizens get involved with their communities.

Kiser: Why Black Friday is No Longer Newsworthy


I won’t cover the Black Friday mad dash this year. That means I won’t be standing in line with several impatient people all waiting to score a “good deal” on a cheap TV.

Sure, I’ve spent many Black Fridays going out at midnight, standing at the front door of Potomac Mills mall as the bargain seekers fly in. I also witnessed a fight there one Black Friday morning as hordes tried to get into a shoe store that had not yet opened its retractable metal store gate.

What once started as an idea to generate buzz and get an early jump on Christmas sales has become routine, and frankly, that means it’s no longer news. We know people will camp in tents outside of big box electronics stores, and that long lines will form at shopping malls before the sun comes up. And, expanding on a trend started by Kmart in the late 1990s, many stores for a second and third year in a row will be open on Thanksgiving Day.

Some say it’s a great way to grab a bargain. Others wonder if anyone actually plans to spend any time with friends and family and do what you are supposed to do on this holiday – eat and give thanks. A friend of mine wondered if anyone standing in those lines will eat anything. “If they ate like I do, none of them would be able to walk around,” he quipped.

Let’s also not forget that opening retail stores early on Fridays, or on Thanksgiving for that matter, gives workers less time, if any, to spend with their loved ones. Sure, you can argue that those workers signed up for the requirements of the job, but it’s clear that our greed created those requirements.

So, enjoy your time on Thanksgiving doing whatever it is you plan to do. I’m writing this from a market inside a grocery store where I’ll pick up the remaining items we’ll need for our Thanksgiving feast. You won’t find me in a store tomorrow, and probably not on Friday either.

BizTech: 3 Alternatives to Blogging that Your Company Needs to Know


I previously wrote about the pitfalls of business blogging and why you might want to exclude it from your marketing plan. But if blogging doesn’t fit with your marketing and business strategy, what should you be doing to rev up traffic to your website?

In this article, I want to give quick overviews of three solid alternatives to blogging. Blogging has its place, and it’s often the go-to source for kicking up a website’s marketing efforts, but it’s no the be-all solution.

Alternative #1: White Papers

White papers are somewhat of an oldie. But it’s an oldie that still works wonders. For those who are unfamiliar with white papers, they’re executive style reports that can range from a couple of pages to hundreds of pages. Their purpose is to distill thought leadership as it pertains to a particular service, technology, idea, or some other topic important to organizations.

White papers are popular with technology-focused businesses. For example, McKinsey & Company regularly posts white papers on the subject of healthcare technology.

One important thing you might notice on the McKinsey website is that their white papers are under lock and key. You must fill out a form to gain access. This is where marketing comes into play. In exchange for some of your information, McKinsey hands over their documents. I expect McKinsey would then use that information to facilitate product and service offerings to anyone who fills out their form. It’s completely legitimate, and it’s a win-win for both the reader and the company providing the white papers.

What could you write a white paper about? Think abut trends in your industry – perhaps some underlying currents rippling through the marketplace that the general public doesn’t know about. Topics such as those entice your potential customers to want to read more, especially if the information holds something of value for them.

Check out the SBA’s website for more useful tidbits on using white papers to market your business.

Alternative #2: eBook

Yes, the dreaded eBook. Where white papers might be a remnant of the past, eBooks are the thing of the future. Amazon has exploded as a marketplace for these electronic books, offering a stage for newbie authors to express their ideas and stories in an economical fashion.

How can you take advantage of the eBook concept for your organization? It’s easy. Write one and offer it to your customers and prospects.

Okay, so it’s not that easy. But eBooks are certainly a new and exciting way to engage your target market. Essentially, an eBook is what it sounds like: a book that revolves around a central theme that is offered in an electronic format for consumption. For businesses, an eBook will focus on a non-fiction subject that addresses a problem a target market experiences and tells a compelling story on defeating that problem. Take Dave Ramsey’s Entreleadership book  as an example. In this book, Ramsey expounds on the virtues he’s adapted over the years to build his own business. The book aims to address the problem of business failure and it does so in an enticing way. Entreleadership is a marketing vehicle for Ramsey’s organization, and I have no doubt it has worked wonders for him and his team.

An eBook will solidify your and your organization’s depth of knowledge in a particular field, and the eBook offers a legitimate platform on which you can launch a packaged source of information your clients and prospects will value.

Alternative #3: Podcasting

Podcasting may sound like a bit of a stretch, but it’s definitely a viable alternative to blogging. Podcasts are still going strong, and the technical know-how needed to get up and running is minimal.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of podcasting, a podcast is essentially a periodic audio release featuring one or more people talking about a specific subject. For example, there are running and nutrition podcasts, there are financial and economics podcasts, there are football podcasts and music podcasts – there’s a podcast for just about everything.

If you’re in a trade that can lead to captivating stories or interviews, a podcast can be the perfect channel. And unlike blogging, podcasting enjoys a more central publishing platform: iTunes. You can submit your podcast episodes to Apple’s iTunes network and receive free exposure.

Moser: School Grave Exhumation Tugs at Heartstrings, Ironic for County that Promotes History


The exhumation of Lynn Family graves at the site of the soon-to-be-built 12th high school has been controversial and heart rending.

All week long, email has been exchanged, with friends, with colleagues, elected officials and reporters. Before I write another sentence, I’d like to thank Jill Palermo, writing for insidenova.com, who has produced a series of articles, beginning on August 23, regarding the gravesite at the proposed 12th high school.

If not for Palermo’s efforts, none of us might have noticed what was happening, the Lynn family may never have learned the whereabouts of their ancestors as Palermo wrote on Nov. 18 , and this loss of a piece of our history may have gone unnoticed. Her continued efforts and research culminating in this article from Nov. 21 captured the attention and helped Dr. Bill Olson, Chairman of the Historical Commission’s Cemetery Committee share his concerns about the site and the exhumation.

Our Potomac Local editor, Uriah Kiser, wrote about the situation on Nov. 18 and again on Nov. 19. WRC-TV reported on Nov. 18 and WUSA-TV posted this video report.

The video from the school board hearing may have answered some questions, but for many of us, the answers were not sufficient. PWCS has posted a lot of information on this page, but I am very much aware this information was not posted prior to the outcry of residents.

I thank Delegates Scott Lingamfelter and Rich Anderson for championing the citizens and the Lynn family. Our representatives of the 31st and 51st Districts and their staff have been extraordinarily helpful and I believe we may see some state regulation to ensure this situation is not repeated.

I am so disappointed, not only in the way this situation has been handled, but in the lack of direct communication from our local elected officials. I do appreciate Chairman Stewart and Supervisor Nohe’s efforts to enact a new policy to ensure no other gravesites are violated without proper notification of the family, but it feels like a case of “Too little, too late.”

There was a time when any one of us concerned citizens could pick up the phone or send an email and get a response directly from our elected officials. That seems to happen less and less, as responses now are often through a spokesman. I understand it is becoming near impossible to interact with every constituent with a problem, since each district now has a population over 65,000 residents.

Our county has grown too large, too fast. There is an enormous push to get this school up out of the ground. Economic Development is scrambling to get jobs here that are more than retail and restaurant.

State and Prince William County transportation officials are hustling to catch up with roads to transport all these new residents.

We continue to build homes at an alarming pace, we’re consuming all the old growth and wetlands with promises to mitigate or relocate…Isn’t that like robbing Peter to pay Paul?

I want to leave you with a thought that plagued me all week:

Tourism is the best idea for Prince William County. Tourism means people come here, spend their money, enjoy their visit and then go home to their own state or county, where their children go to school.

Our primary resource for tourism is our history. How horribly ironic it is that we have obscured this site. Worse still, how many times has this happened before the press, the citizens and the internet became the watchdogs of development and the protectors of our resources?


Son Barters when Accepting Cash for Everyday College Expenses

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I have just been online paying the final invoice for my son’s first semester of college. I have been forcing myself to breathe during the two-minute transaction; my bank routing and account information is already entered and it only takes one login ID, one password, one “payments” tab click, one “pay invoice in full” click, and finally one “make payment” click to complete the process.

The breathing part was required because I have now paid the “final” invoice three times, while receiving two refunds for overpayment in between payments one and two. Today’s tuition invoice was for $0.14 – really! – and knowing that the processing costs are well above that invoice amount, plus the fact that that there have already been four other transactions, makes me want to smack someone.

But that would be pointless and destructive, so instead, while I’m here in the online payment portal, I’ve decided to add money to my son’s ID card. That one magic card gets him into his dorm and the library, serves as a meal counter in the cafeteria, and is also a debit card for use in vending machines and washing machines and dryers in the dorm. My son is down to $3 on his card and I’m trying on this late evening to increase that.

To add to the evening’s payment frustration, the online system seems to be down. Three times I’ve put in my son’s ID number (or what I think is his ID number) and his birthdate (that I am sure of!), and three times I’ve gotten a message saying the system is having problems and to try again later. Ugh. Later, I’m going to be in bed. Later, and I will have forgotten.

So I go back to the instructions page and read carefully. Aha! My son can add money himself, in person, on campus, with a credit card. And he has a copy of my credit card, for emergencies, and for staples things I want to buy for him. Yes, I think tiredly, let’s go that route.

I pick up my phone, and text my kid: “Just tried to add money to your ID card online but the system seems to be down. You can do it on campus though … I authorize $75 from my credit card.”

I don’t expect to hear back right away, surely my son is busy, but I get an immediate text back: “I don’t need 75 thanks for the offer probably will just add 35 or so”.

That, I realize, is a big deal. My son doesn’t like to spend my money, he likes to be completely self-sufficient. He has his savings from his summer job, and he wants to use that. But he paid for his own books this semester, and he contributed a lot to his laptop, both things my husband and I fully bought for his sister, and those took a big chunk out of his savings. And maybe he thinks it’s OK for us to pay for his laundry. Whatever the reason, it appears that he will accept some money on his ID card, and that’s a good thing. But $35 doesn’t seem like much to me. Each load of laundry is $7, I think.

So I text back: “$60 then.”

He replies: “40”.

I meet him halfway: “$50”.

And I receive back, “Deal. 45 it is”

I grin. “Lol. Handshake :)” I text back.

I sit back in my chair, smiling. I look up, and, done, click away the online payment plan web page. Finally, an effective and pleasant college payment process!

Moser: Graves Exhumation at High School Site Leaves Trust Issues


My Grandpa said, “Trust has to be earned.” I believed him because I believed everything he told me. Today, though, I’m not sure that was accurate. I think we all start life trusting. Just picture the joy when you toss your toddler in the air! That child trusts you to catch him/her. If you missed, that child may develop mistrust, but it is not an inherent, natural part of childhood.

TRUST: noun: trust
1. firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
“relations have to be built on trust”

What happens to change that trust? Does trust begin to erode when children discover there is no Santa, no Easter Bunny, or no Tooth Fairy? Do we stop trusting when Dad says he’s taking your dog to “The Farm”, when what he really meant was he was having your elderly friend euthanized?

Is trust something you lose all at once or is it bitten off a piece at a time when you look at the photo of the food you ordered and are faced with the sad imitation when it arrives on your tray? Does your trust diminish when you open a package that you think should be full and it looks half empty? There’s a caveat on the box that reads, “Contents may settle due to shipping.” Are you satisfied with that explanation?

So, perhaps it becomes our nature to be skeptical about people we should trust or used to trust. Certainly, when we read, “Canada says 386 Kids Rescued in porn bust” and discover among those arrested are teachers and doctors, our trust is tarnished. When we read about pedophiles in the Catholic Church or trusted child care providers abusing children in their care, it is no small wonder we have become jaded.

Add to the mix CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) Photoshop, magicians, and optical illusions.
Is it any wonder when we hear some declaration like President Obama vowing to eliminate homelessness for the current 62,000 veterans sleeping in the streets by 2015, we doubt? (It seems especially doubtful after the healthcare.gov debacle.)

So, when Prince William County Schools contract to exhume 13 graves, without investigation by our top notch experts on the Cemetery Committee of the Prince William Historical Commission, and after posting the most minimal of notice in the Washington Post Classifieds, is it any wonder we feel mistrust?

What could possibly be the big rush to move these remains? Why couldn’t this be delayed until adequate public notice was given? I have been told the state only received two objections to the exhumation. I don’t think that is surprising, since practically no one knew about this in time to take any action to delay the proceedings. Why is there no attempt to alter the plans, fence the cemetery and show respect to the dead as we have done in so many other locations in Prince William County?

There are quite a few of us asking questions now. We’re asking the School Administration, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, our School Board Representatives and we’re asking our elected officials. To date, I have received a response from Prince William County Executive Melissa Peacor stating the county’s School Board is ultimately responsible for school projects.

Peacor’s response was polite, but not satisfying.

School Board members have asked that we just be patient until Prince William schools officials respond and another told me she shares our concerns and will be seeking more information.

Unfortunately, since exhumation began on Veteran’s Day, we may all be too late. 

Moser: Having Shovel Ready is Snow Joke


I heard a rumor today. There’s a possibility of snow next week! All right, I didn’t actually hear a rumor, but I did read several Facebook posts, like this one from WMAL Radio and another from accu-weather.com. After the last few years, it seems early November is too soon for snow, but if we know anything about NoVa, it’s that you never know what’s coming next.

To be prepared now will mean no last minute panic with everyone racing out for their typical “bread, milk toilet paper and snow shovel.” Today is as good a day as any to find your shovel. If you can’t find it, maybe you need to clean out your shed. (This happens to me all the time. I set out on a mission and get side-tracked.

While looking for the snow shovel, I see all the cobwebs that have accumulated in the shed. Next thing you know, I have dragged all the lawn equipment out onto the lawn!)

I couldn’t find my snow shovel. I’m pretty sure it’s because I don’t have one. I had one. I actually had three, but I believe they were worn out and I thought I would replace them at the end of the season.

I don’t think I actually followed through with that plan, though.

I am undeterred because I have a secret weapon! One year, for Christmas, my romantic, thoughtful husband bought me a snow plow! You may scoff. You may think, “What? How about a nice piece of jewelry?” Believe me, the snow plow is the best gift he EVER bought for me!

In our nearly 40 years of marriage, up until the snow plow blessed our home, Bill never shoveled snow. I would always get up before daylight and get the driveway shoveled so he could go to work. Then I shoveled the walks. I shoveled neighbors’ driveways. I shoveled neighbors’ walks. One year I shoveled an entire intersection after the snow plows left banks six-feet high and a single lane open. I worked all day until there were two lanes in every direction.

Most people who have survived winter driving in this area once, stay home the next time. I absolutely am afraid to drive in snow! I’m not afraid I will wreck. I have four wheel drive on a pickup and grew up in Indiana, where we had big snows and lived in Illinois, where we had even bigger snows. What I am afraid of is that someone else will hit me!

To help you brace for the coming season, here’s a video from VDOT to help you track where the plows are. I sincerely hope everyone who can stay home, does stay home when it snows and lets the emergency crews do what they need to do.

I am going to list a couple of my favorite recommendations for snowy weather. Add yours in the comments. Oh, and the reason that snow plow is such a great gift? My husband likes to use it!

Snowfall checklist:
If there is snow forecast, please get your vehicles off the street to let the snow plows do their best work.
When you shovel, please do not throw the snow out into the street! Throw it into your yard. The streets will clear faster with much less icing from freeze/thaw.
Get a weather radio and keep it turned on.
You should already have an emergency kit from tornado season. Be sure batteries are still fresh and add a warm blanket.
Check on older or disabled neighbors and clear a path for them.
What are some of your favorite tips for snowy weather?

Battle Pineapple Upside-Down Cake? It’s Cheaper to Eat Out

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

OK. I give up. This damp rag is not working. I roll back off my knees onto my heels, stand up, and cross the kitchen. I pull open a silverware drawer, slide aside the divider with the knives and forks, and root around in the assortment of random mismatched implements. Finally I find what I’m looking for: an old steak knife from probably the 1970s, donated to our then-new family by my in-laws when my husband and I set up our household in 1989.

The knife is rarely used, not part of any matching set, and has a sharp, thin blade. It’s come in handy often over the past decades and is definitely the tool for the job today.

Back over to the refrigerator. I open the door, kneel down, get a good grip, and lean in. I apply the blade of the knife to the far right edge of the goo, and start scraping.

The maraschino cherry juice is thick and sticky, and obviously has been settling in for some time. I’m not quite sure how I hadn’t noticed it when it first started to accumulate – though, OK, I saw it a week or two ago, I just didn’t get around to cleaning it right away. I had a feeling it was going to require some elbow grease!

It’s been a few weeks since I cleaned out the pantry, clearing out the accumulated kid snacks and school lunch components. Today it’s the refrigerator. Among other scary things, I’ve thrown out seven expired Greek yogurts, two old looking tubs of shredded Parmesan cheese, and a few completely wasted bags of produce: lettuce, tomatoes, mini peppers.

I’m still adjusting to having no kids at home: I’ve decreased my grocery shopping by a lot, but some things I still buy too much of. Bottled meat marinade, for instance. I only use half a bottle now that I’m cooking for only two, leaving the other half in the fridge …where, apparently, it gets pushed to the back and forgotten. I cook less in general – it’s so cheap for two people to eat out – and I forget the ingredients I have on hand and use less when I do, leading to the three half-full tubs of shredded Parmesan.

The maraschino cherries, however, have no such empty-nester explanation. A few times each year I indulge in a homemade pineapple upside-down cake even though nobody eats it but me, and then I need a small jar of maraschino cherries. A pineapple upside-down cake is just not as fun without maraschino cherry halves centered in the pineapple rings.

But even the smallest jar is too big, and I put the remainder in the fridge, where, like marinade, it gets pushed to the back and forgotten … and apparently knocked over. And then the juice oozes out, and spreads, and hardens in the cold, and becomes an unnatural red-pink glue that has to be chiseled off.

Carefully, carefully I scrape. The hot wet rag I applied before bringing out the knife has softened the long smear, but it still takes some effort, a slow and steadily powered push. From time to time I back out of the fridge and wipe the compacted gunk off the knife and onto a napkin, clearing the blade for the next swipe.

It takes a few minutes – scraping and wiping and finally rubbing the spot with the rag – until all traces are gone. I stand up, raise the jar of cherries to my eye level, and assess: looks like there are enough left for another pineapple upside-down cake. I unscrew, replace, and tighten the lid – no more leaking, thank you! – and put it back in the fridge.

I stand for a minute, gazing proudly at my work, gleaming bare and sparkling refrigerator shelves. Yes! Everything inside is clear and visible. No more buying ingredients I already have!

And as I swing the fridge door closed I happen to see the calendar stuck on the side. November. Oh! Thanksgiving! Extra food, extra cooking … and kids home for the holidays. I open the fridge door again and gaze inside, getting a good look at the clean shelves while I can.

Moser: Who is Waiting for the Holidays?


Do you remember, when you were a child, how you were always waiting for something? It seemed like nearly every day was spent in anticipation of some glorious event.

We waited for school to begin or we waited for school to end. Birthdays seemed much longer than a year apart, especially those important years, like age 6 to start school (In Indiana, we started school at age six if you were born by December 31.) Pre-school and Kindergarten were virtually unheard of, at least where I grew up, so, six was a major birthday!

Thirteen was awesome because then we were teenagers! Age 16 was magic if you were lucky enough to have a vehicle to drive. Eighteen meant you were old enough to join the service. Twenty-one and you were finally an adult. (I have never forgiven the state of Indiana for lowering the legal drinking age to 18 in the year I turned 21!)

In between those mile-marker years were holidays and holy days. I always felt lucky to be Catholic because we celebrated lots more days than kids in public schools. We had eight Holy Days and nearly all of them fell during the school year. I was intrigued with All Saints Day, not only because occasionally we got a three day weekend, but that there were individual feast days for saints and then they ALL had a birthday celebration on November 1!

All Souls Day remained a little murky for me. Halloween and All Saints Day were filled with fun, candy and a celebration, so the prospect of honoring the souls in Purgatory and praying for their release was sort of a return to the solemnity that I typically associated with my religion.

I waited with gleeful anticipation for many events, like the birth of my children. I waited for my husband to make rank, because it meant a little more money in our military pay.

There are other kinds of waiting, not nearly so pleasant, like waiting in line at the commissary, waiting in the aptly named rooms of countless doctors and dentists through the years. There’s waiting in traffic that consumes our time needlessly and makes us irritable and late.

There’s the awful waiting for a diagnosis to be made. Our nerves become stretched tight, our fists clenched in fear and desperation for news we never want to hear. There’s waiting late at night, pacing the floor, agonizing over those same children you once waited for in gleeful anticipation.

Sometimes I have to stop myself. I have to say aloud, “Stop waiting!” Find something productive to do while you wait. Fill your heart with busy! Crowd your mind with the need to help others and soon, you’ll find you are no longer waiting.

Perhaps the oddest observation of all is as we get older, it seems time passes faster. One day you look around and find you are no longer waiting. Suddenly you wish you could slow everything down! So much of life is behind you and there is, for the first time, less life ahead. That happens to most people around the age of 45…I just noticed it today! 

So what? Halloween is over. Bring on the Thanksgiving Turkey! Get out the Christmas tree! Happy New Year!

Area Full of Best Kept Traditions During Holidays

Discover Prince William County and ManassasEditor’s Note: From exceptional museums and children’s programs to historic haunts and unique hikes, there are numerous hidden places waiting to be explored in Prince William & Manassas. Through a monthly feature, Discover Prince William & Manassas will help residents and visitors alike discover some of the best kept attractions, activities and events the community has to offer.

Prince William & Manassas Best Kept: Holiday events

The magic of the holiday season is almost upon us and what better place to celebrate holiday traditions both past and present than in Prince William & Manassas. While the area boasts numerous tree lightings and parades like Merry Old Town in Manassas, there are also a variety of unique holiday programs that draw on our region’s rich history and give residents and visitors a glimpse into the past.

Since 2004, Prince William’s historic preservation division has hosted holiday programs at various sites, said Rob Orrison, historic site operations supervisor for the county. Orrison said his staff tries to create family friendly events that are both educational and fun.

This year, Orrison said they are trying something new at Ben Lomond Historic Site. On Dec. 14 they will be offering candle-lit tours that focus on how slaves celebrated the holiday season. Historians will be around the property portraying slaves and telling their stories about how they saw and experienced Christmas.

“This is something very different, but something we hope will be interesting and educational,” Orrison said, noting that other special events will take place Dec. 7 at Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre and Rippon Lodge.

On Dec. 14, visitors can also get a rare glimpse into another historic home in Prince William-The Weems-Botts Museum. Once home to George Washington’s biographer, this museum comes to life at the holidays and invites visitors to celebrate a Victorian Christmas, museum director Joann Barron said. The free event includes live music, Victorian crafts and a visit from Santa.

One of the last holiday events for the season takes place at Leesylvania State Park on Dec. 21 & 22. During the two-day celebration, take photos with a Civil War-era Santa who will don his 150-year-old handmade suit, enjoy period music, make decorations and visit with costumed interpreters.

For a complete list of holiday events in Prince William & Manassas, visit DiscoverPWM.com.

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