Head of Stafford’s Special Problems Unit Has Special Relationship with Residents

Officer of the Week

STAFFORD, Va. — 1st Sgt Robert Grella, Jr. has spent 13 years as a Stafford County Sheriff’s Deputy.

He grew up in the county, went to Stafford Senior High School, and now as head of the sheriff’s department’s Special Problems Unit, he says he’s made more positive interactions with his neighbors through this line of work than he would have working a different job.

Grella patrols the entire county, but his unit takes special cases, working tips to try and track down narcotics, or it could be working to find a missing child. The duties vary from day to day, but it’s a relationship with residents that makes is work worthwhile. And they love him back, he says, as residents in the Foxwood Village neighborhood called him “mayor.”

“I want to say you work hand in hand with these people… they almost become like family, the same kind of people you want to go visit at Christmastime,” said Grella.

He’s been working as head of the Special Problems Unit for two years. Before becoming a sheriff’s deputy, he worked as a correctional officer. It was there he learned to use words to combat and diffuse situations. He’s applied that training the streets.

“I can remember when I was a kid I wanted to become a cop,” said Grella.

When he finally became one, he learned there was more to the job than he first thought.

“It was so neat to drive a car with lights and sirens, carry a gun, and then all you want to go and do is go out and arrest people,” said Grella. “But as you get wiser you know you want to go out and help people.”

Married for 23 years with three boys, ages 11, 14, and 21, having a family that lives in the community drives him even more to protect and serve, he said. His youngest son even talks about joining the force someday.

Grella heads a team of four officers. He said Sheriff’s Charles Jett has given him and his team leeway to investigate crimes, and to have the ability to get the job done. Unlike many of his counterparts, Grella doesn’t have a military background, and that has helped in his leadership ability.

“I’m able to take a different approach to some things…and have the ability take a step back and look at it from a different angle…that can be a help when you’re doing this job,” he said.

Festivals, Airshow, World’s Largest ‘Red Light/Green Light’ Try all Happening This Weekend

050512 Dumfries Multi fest 1

There’s a lot happening in our communities this weekend. Here’s a quick guide to get you call caught up on the events taking place nearby.

Dumfries Multicultural Festival

More than 50 vendors will converge at Dumfries’ Garrison Park behind Town Hall on Saturday for the town’s 2nd Annual Multicultural Festival. Also back this year will be the Barbeque Battle featuring four vendors: Frank’s BBQ, Jeremiah’s Kansas City BBQ, Devyne BBQ In Motion, and Eva’s Delight Catering.

There will also be live music and performances, face painting, and photos with the “Virginia is for Lovers LOVEWork! sign in the park.

Prince William Community Expo

Potomac Local News is proud to help sponsor the Prince William County Community Expo set for Saturday, May 4, from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. at the Pfitzner Stadium Complex.

The event will include activities for all ages, such as a petting zoo, mascot dance off, BMX demonstrations, on-stage performances, prizes, food vendors, nature walks, nutrition education and physical education activities. Youth can earn their Junior Forest Ranger Badge.

PWC Community Expo is coordinated by Prince William County Public Schools, ED OUT, Prince William County Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth, PWCS Health and Physical Education, PWC Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, and the Hylton Foundation.

Manassas Big Day of Serving

As part of the day’s events, and to encourage community spirit, the City is going to attempt to break the Guiness World Record for the largest game of red light/green light. The City of Manassas is an advocate of healthy living and encourages healthy outdoor activity and red light/green light is a simple, healthy outdoor activity that is fun for the whole family.

Manassas Air Show

From noon until 2 p.m., the Manassas Regional Airport Air Show will be held. It’s free to get in, and the event will feature aircraft displays, a full aerobatic air show, and wing-walking.

Donations will be accepted at the gate to support the Manassas Freedom Museum.

IKEA Woodbridge Redesign Party

IKEA Woodbridge will mark the official completion of the newly updated Marketplace on Saturday, May 4 and Sunday, May 5, for a weekend of savings, giveaways, kids eat free and fun activities for the whole family. Live Radio Disney, Saturday, May 4, from 1 – 3 p.m.

The early birds get the prizes. The first 500 in line will receive a free Blue Bag & Kids get a freesoft toy. The first 100 will receive a gift card ranging in value from 5- $1,000 each day. The $1,000 winner will also receive a free design consult with an IKEA interior designer.


Sentara Unveils New System to Help Treat Heart Attack Patients

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — A new tool will make it easier for heart attack patients to receive critical treatment when minutes matter most.

Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge implemented a new system called LIFENET. It is the first web-based data network of its kind that offers EMS technicians in the field the ability to send information back to a hospital to help doctors identify patients suffering a dangerous type of heart attack known as STEMI, or ST-segment elevation myocardial infraction.

Here’s how it works:

LIFENET System is a state-of-the-art, easy to use system designed to connect EMS teams and hospital personnel with emergent patient data, and to help increase workflow so that a patient can receive treatment as quickly as possible.

LIFENET enables paramedics in the field to alert hospital care teams and provide them with critical patient data so they can quickly identify STEMI patients, determine where to route them for care, and have staff prepared before the patient arrives, reducing time to treatment.

While Sentara hospitals in Hampton Roads have used the system for years, this is the first time it’s being deployed in Prince William County.

The LIFENET system was donated to the hospital by the Potomac Health Foundation.

“Potomac Health Foundation aims to promote wellness and prevent disease in our service area. Heart issues are among the top health needs resulting in hospitalization in our community. This effort is designed to save lives by providing the medical staff with vital information to determine appropriate treatment interventions, even before the patient arrives at the hospital,” said  Sheri Warren, director of grant programs at Potomac Health Foundation..

According to hospital officials, STEMI heart attacks should not be taken lightly:

STEMI poses a serious threat to the heart muscle and can result in death or serious disability for the patient. The more quickly patients can receive treatment, which may include balloon angioplasty and stent placement in the cardiac catheterization lab, the more likely they are to have a positive outcome. D2B time refers to the interval from patient arrival at the hospital to inflation of the balloon catheter within the patient’s blocked artery – the shorter the D2B time, the greater the chance of survival.

New Grass, Paint Part of Georgetown South Neighborhood Makeover

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Residents in the Georgetown South neighborhood in Manassas bought sod at a discounted price from their community center as part of a neighborhood beatification project. For some, it was the first time homeowners saw grass in their own yards. [Photo / Matt Stromberg]


MANASSAS, Va. — How do you spruce up a neighborhood that’s about to turn 50-years-old?

In Manassas’ Georgetown South neighborhood, residents bought sod, paint, and during a community clean-up effort, residents and volunteers worked together to make their neighborhood a better place to live.

Saturday marked the second year residents came together for a neighborhood clean-up aptly named “Your Pride Outside Spring.” A total of 22 households bought a combined 458 rolls of sod from Georgetown South’s non-profit homeowners association – each of the sod rolls were wrapped in 10-square-foot rolls. The residents then got help installing the new grass from the neighborhood’s maintenance staff.

“None of this would have been possible or practical had it not been for Centreville Sod and Tim Demeria, who gave us an incredible and very cost effective price. This is all part of our ‘cleaning up’ the community as a whole, which we started doing intensively last year,” said Meg Carroll, with the homeowner’s association. “This phase has the owners and residents doing much of the work on their own homes, rather than volunteers (as has been the case in the past) to create a send of pride in their houses and the community.”

Located just outside Old Town Manassas, Georgetown South was the brainchild of the 1960s, when a developer with their sights set on Manassas wanted to construct colonial-style row houses that resembled those in Washington’s famed Georgetown neighborhood. Early advertising for the neighborhood that appeared in the town’s old newspaper, The Manassas Journal Messenger, marketed elegant homes located just south of the nation’s capital.

On the Georgetown South Homeowner’s Association’s website, some of the text used in those early advertisements is still featured.

“Each street is a picture of beauty. Each home varies in materials, colors, and shape from its neighbors…exactly like the expensive houses of Georgetown,” states the website.

But now as the neighborhood is set to commemorate its 50th anniversary next year, Georgetown South has become known for crime, drugs, and is often mentioned in city police reports. That image is something Carroll, and many who live there, are trying to change.

In recent years, the homeowners association  has touted needed improvements that have been made, including:

– Increased lighting on the common areas to encourage community engagement and discourage crime

– Creation of a fitness walk on the outer perimeter of Georgetown South to offer as an amenity to our residents

– Expansion of existing play areas to accommodate special needs

– Organization of a passive, but effective Neighborhood Watch

In March, the Early Head Start Child Development Center in the neighborhood became the first in the state to earn a coveted five-star rating. The neighborhood now also has a pediatric center inside its community center.

In addition to the installation of sod and new paint, a community health fair, and a yard sale was also held Saturday. Organizers said it was a great way for residents to clean out their homes and help make someone’s old trash someone’s new treasure.

Virginia Lottery Surprises School, Awards Manassas ‘Super Teacher’ Cash

Virginia Lottery Executive Director Paula Otto presents Osbourn Park High School civics teacher Christina Ross with a check for $2,000, awarding her as a “Super Teacher” of the year. [Uriah Kiser / Potomac Local News]

MANASSAS, Va. – Christina Ross is $2,000 richer today. But the Manassas teacher who was honored by the Virginia Lottery says her work with students is far more rewarding than any cash prize.

Ross, a civics teacher at Osbourn Park High School, is a Virginia Lottery’s “Super Teacher of the Year” for 2013. She was presented a $2,000 check Wednesday in front of her students, fellow teachers, and local school officials who gathered inside the school’s library to surprise her.

In addition to the cash, Ross also received a voucher for $2,000 in school supplies for her classroom from the Supply Room Companies.

“The only reason I’m a great teacher is because I have great students,” a surprised Ross told her students and the rest of those inside the library.

“You guys make me great, but I’m sharing any of the money,” she joked.

Once a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, Ross took up teaching high school six years ago. Always driven to serve the community and to instill the same values in her students, her class on Wednesday also started “Kicks for Kids,” a non-profit organization set up entirely by students to help drive donations of footwear and coats for needy children in the region.

“I really like the way she encourages us to get out into the community, to get outside our school, visit other schools, and see how we can help make an impact in our community,” said Katherine Davis, 18, a student in Ross’ class.

Many other students said Ross is able to connect with them because she’s passionate about what she teaches.

“Her enthusiasm is great, and she gives us the freedom to come up with these different projects,” said 17-year-old Effie Smith.

Last year Ross’ students collected 350 pairs of shoes and $2,500 in donations for Kicks for Kids. Students this year hope to top that.

Ross was nominated for the award by Assistant Principal Cassandra Crawford who commended her on her use of technology in the classroom.

“She utilizes Voicethread, a web-based application, to ‘flip’ her classroom. She also uses Twitter to engage students in virtual Socratic seminars,” penned Crawford in a nomination letter to the Virginia Lottery.

“Super Teachers” at Signal Hill Elementary School in Manasass, and at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Woodbridge in 2009 have also been recognized.

Later this fall, eight other “Super Teachers” from schools across Virginia will be entered for the chance to win $5,000 in supplies for their classroom from the Supply Room Companies.

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Youth Orchestras Holding Season Finale Concert Sunday

[Photo: Suhail Mir / Youth Orchestras of Prince William]

Submitted News 

The Youth Orchestras of Prince William will conclude an exceptionally successful 2012-2013 season, with a season finale concert on Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 4 p.m. at Patriot High School.

The concert will feature YOPW’s eight large ensembles and will showcase the progress they have made throughout the season. YOPW’s annual Silent Auction will be from 3:30  until 6:00 p.m. Tickets for the performance are $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and free for children under 6. Tickets may be purchased at the door.

One of the many highlights of this performance is Woodbridge High School Senior, Kai Rocke performing Mozart’s Concerto in Bb.

“Kai has been a long-time member of the YOPW family and will be attending New England Conservatory next year to pursue a degree in bassoon performance. We are very proud of Kai and this will be a very nice send-off for him and a way to honor all of the seniors from whom this will be their last concert with the YSO,” said Music Director, John Devlin.

YOPW will hold auditions for new students on May 13 at Gar-Field High School and May 20 at Patriot High School. Audition requirements can be found on the YOPW website: Particular areas of need are: Viola, bass, bassoon, horn, trumpet and

Sitting Next to Stranger on Bus a Cozy Experience

Slug Tales 


You know that scenario where you’re alone in an otherwise empty movie theater, and someone comes along and plops down right next to you?

If there’s one thing I can’t stand on the bus, or even on the Metro, it’s people who think they are entitled to more than one seat. Those people who sit on the aisle looking straight ahead, pretending not to notice the people standing around them, looking for somewhere to sit down. Or the ones who sit in the window seat with their bag or briefcase taking up the seat next to them, unwilling to move it to their lap to make room for another passenger – they all drive me crazy.


What makes them think they can have two seats, when others don’t even have one? It’s incredibly selfish and rude, if you ask me.

That being said, I think most of us probably prefer to sit by ourselves or with a friend, over sitting next to a stranger. After a long day at work, most people seem to enjoy the opportunity to stretch out a bit and relax during the ride home. That’s a little more difficult to do with someone sitting practically on top of you.

Last week, the bus was a bit of a lifesaver for me. After finding out that I needed both front and rear brakes in my car replaced, I needed to figure out an alternative commute so that I wouldn’t have to drive. The bus, which picks up and drops off right near my house, was super convenient and saved me a lot of trouble. Plus, it was nice not having to navigate through traffic back and forth to the commuter lot every day.

When I got on the bus to go home Tuesday afternoon, I was pleased to see how empty it was. There’s nothing worse than hearing the bus driver shout, “standing room only!” as you’re boarding, and I could see that wouldn’t be an issue, especially getting a seat at the second to last stop before hitting the highway.

Finding the perfect window seat, I settled in and got comfortable. My allergies have just been awful lately, and the medicine I’ve been taking just makes me feel so tired. It felt so good to finally close my eyes.

At the Pentagon, the line for our bus was pretty short. Considering there were plenty of open seats, I looked forward to having a little space during the ride home. But to my chagrin, I opened my eyes just in time to see another passenger setting his bags down in the aisle seat next to me.

It was not just any passenger sitting down, either – he was a quite burly gentleman, let’s just say, and he had a lot of baggage. Literally. A backpack and a briefcase. Why did he even need to carry both? Well, it didn’t really matter. All I knew was that it would be a very cozy ride!

On a positive note, I had been feeling a little chilly before he sat down. Now being squished between my seat buddy and the window, I didn’t have to worry about being cold at all. By the end of the ride, I was actually ready for some air.

I tried to close my eyes and get back to my nap, but couldn’t get comfortable again. Not to mention how awkward I felt when I realized his leg had been pushed against mine for half of the ride. At less than five feet tall, I’d say I’m pretty compact, but I had no room to move around where we wouldn’t be touching. It was making me feel claustrophobic, as I tried not to think about how close we were sitting.

It was such a relief to get off the bus that day, and luckily, the rest of the week wasn’t so bad. Though I shared a seat next to someone each day, it was nice to finally have a seat to myself on Friday afternoon. Plus, I got to sleep through the horrible Friday evening southbound traffic, instead of driving through it myself. And what could be better than that? Maybe I should take the bus more often!

Carnival of Hope to Raise Funds for 11-year-old with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

For Potomac Local News

The Carnival of Hope is not your typical carnival. This event will take place this weekend, Saturday, May 4 at Marshall Elementary School at 12505 Kahns Road in Prince William County from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

There will be carnival food, games, Zumba, and music, but the purpose of this carnival is more than just having fun. It’s the first annual birthday celebration of 11-year-old  Joshua Jurack who was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in January 2006. Duchenne is an extremely debilitating type of neuromuscular disease that strikes boys ages three to five years old.

The current reality is that the majority of young men afflicted rarely live past their late teen’s and early 20’s. While this disease has taken away Joshua’s ability to walk, it doesn’t affect his mental abilities or his spirit.

The Carnival of Hope is also a fundraiser to raise funds for Joshua’s Hope Inc. which is a corporation that helps families who are dealing with Muscular Dystrophy. Funds raised for the foundation will directly help Joshua’s family and other local families by helping with their medical bills, wheelchair purchases and more.

Joshua’s Hope Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) corporation that Joshua’s parents, Peter James (P.J.) and Kaaren Jurack, started in their son’s name two years ago. Their Facebook page states that the foundation is “dedicated to providing direct financial assistance for our family and others, as well as funding research opportunities.”

“Our goal with this event and with Joshua’s Hope Inc. is to be able to bless other families as we have been blessed,” said Kaaren Jurack.

In today’s economy, families are finding that funds available through the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) are no longer sufficient in providing what they need to care for their loved ones, states the Joshua’s Hope Inc. Facebook page. This is in part due to the MDA being forced to reduce its services four years ago and since have not been able to provide financial assistance to families requiring medical equipment, especially wheelchairs, according to the Joshua’s Hope Inc. Facebook page. It is one of the goals of Joshua’s Hope, Inc. to help fill that void and provide financial assistance to families battling Duchenne.

The carnival is sure to be a fun event for the community and a great opportunity to support a local family. There is no entrance fee and tickets will be available for fifty cents each. Kaaren Jurack said that the games will range from one to three tickets per play. There will also be glitter tattoos, face painting and pictures with Joshua for one to two tickets. In addition, Kaaren Jurack also shared that there will be a prize raffle for those who donate $50 or more.

This is a rain or shine event.

Meal Deal Offered at ‘Taste of Lake Ridge’

Visitors to the “Taste of Lake Ridge” sample food from restaurants in the Woodbridge area. [Submitted photo]

LAKE RIDGE, Va. – The restaurants in and around Lake Ridge are tasty, and the organizers of the annual “Taste of Lake Ridge” want you to come out and take in what community has to offer.

The neighborhood event will feature food from area restaurants like The All-American Steakhouse, Tim’s Rivershore, Langiappe on the Bayou, Glory Days Grill, Rita’s Ice, Harbor One Comfort Snack Mix, Oscar’s BBQ, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and and Confections Cupcakes.

It’ll take place from Tuesday, May 14, from 4 to 8 p.m., at the Tall Oaks Community Center on Cotton Mill Drive, just off Mohican and Old Bridge roads in Lake Ridge.

“This is a fun event where families can walk to the community center, and commuters can get off the bus and walk down, and try some delicious food from great area restaurants,” said Lake Ridge Parks and Recreation Association spokeswoman Victoria Blevins.

To get a “taste,” tickets for the event are 50 cents each. A special Dinner Deal will be offered where event goers can buy 25 tickets for $10. As a bonus, anyone who refers a restaurant to participate in the Taste of Lake Ridge gets a free dinner deal coupon, said Blevins.

New Leadership Selected for Habitat for Humanity

[Submitted photo]

Submitted News

On Monday, April 22, two new members were elected to the Habitat for Humanity of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park Board of Directors.

New board member Gino Manzo is Director, Microelectronics Technology and Products, Manassas Site Executive at BAE Systems in Manassas. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University. Manzo serves on the University of Virginia Center for Diversity in Engineering Advisory Board, the Virginia Tech Electrical and Computer Engineering Advisory Board, the Virginia Tech Semiconductor Advisory Board, and the Virginia Tech Advisory Board for the Center for Space Science and Engineering.

Manzo on why he joined the Habitat board: “At this stage of my life, giving back to our community is a very important personal priority. Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful organization where you can directly experience the tremendous goodwill and effect on people in need. I am proud to be part of the Board of Directors, and look forward to the opportunity to influence the future.”

Currently retired, new board member Brian Smith was the Deputy Building Official of Fairfax County and the Building Official for the City of Manassas. He is also a former member of Habitat for Humanity of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park’s Construction Committee. Smith is currently the chair of Prince William County’s Board of Building Code Appeals.

The new officers elected to the Habitat for Humanity Board are: Chair: John McBride of Odin, Feldman & Pittleman, P.C.; Chair-Elect: Renee Woolfolk of First Mt. Zion Baptist Church; Secretary: Michael Kitchen, Christopher Consultants, Ltd.; Treasurer: Gino Manzo, BAE Systems; and Immediate Past Chair: Theresa Accoo, PNC Mortgage.

Woodbridge Students Perform Their Own Written Works

[Submitted photo]

For Potomac Local News

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — For three years, Woodbridge Senior High School Center for the Fine and Performing Arts (CFPA) Creative Writing students performed self-written pieces at ‘A Play on Words’ for their friends and family. The event took place in the Studio Theater on Saturday.

CFPA is one of the many specialty programs that Woodbridge Senior High School offers. The program is broken down into various concentrations including Dance, Creative Writing, Music: Instrumental, Music: Vocal, Music Technology, Theater and Visual Arts.

‘A Play on Words’ gives freshman, sophomore, junior and senior CFPA Creative Writing students a chance to read fiction, nonfiction, poetry and script, all of which they have been working on since the beginning of the school year.

“I read a fictional piece called ‘Heat Stroke.’ The southern accent that I used came through partly involuntarily because I’m from Texas, but also because that is the accent I imagined my character would have,” Junior Katelyn Portorreal said.

Portorreal admitted that she was completely terrified reading in front of the audience.

“Without Mrs. Hailey’s (CFPA Creative Writing teacher) encouragement, I don’t think I could have done it.”

Mrs. Catherine Hailey said that her proudest moment was difficult to pin down.

“’Play on Words’ is the only opportunity I have to listen to students read straight through – beginning with freshmen and ending with seniors – so it’s a real testimony to the growth that occurs in our program. I feel pride in seeing that growth and knowing I’ve contributed in some small way,” Hailey said.

Hailey was especially pleased seeing Maria Schleh’s script ‘The Firing Squad’ performed.

“It was longer than we would usually pick for ‘A Play on Words,’ but hearing multiple voices made it very powerful for the audience. I was also pleased to hear Katelyn Portorreal read her fiction excerpt since she has often been hesitant to read in front of large groups. She told me later that she was glad she read, and I hope it is a turning point for her,” Hailey said.

Hailey was not the only one enthused by the students’ performances.

Junior Mikayla Thompson, who read a nonfiction piece about art and what it means it her, claimed that her parents enjoyed hearing her read.

“They were super proud when I got up there. They told me I was very elegant and poised,” Thompson said.

Besides the senior showcases, which are on May 29, ‘A Play on Words’ is one of the last chances for CFPA Creative Writing seniors to perform their work in high school.

“I read my poem, ‘Thoughts (The Consequence of a Rumor)’ which is actually going to be in Eddas! (Eddas is Woodbridge Senior High School’s lterary and ats magazine.) This is my first time getting published in Eddas,” Senior Kadie Bennis said.

Bennis said that reading in front of people has slowly become easier for her.

“After having four years of reading in front of a big audience on a microphone, I was quite comfortable with it; not to mention I was with some really awesome friends I’ve known and been with since freshmen year. Through the years, I’ve learned to experiment with different styles of writing and I actually learned to revise my works based on other people’s critiques,” Bennis said.

Renee Ordoobadi is a student at Woodbridge Senior High School.

West Gate Students Participate in ‘Project Plant It’

[Submitted photo]

Submitted News

MANASSAS, Va. — On Arbor Day, April 26, the third-graders at West Gate Elementary School in Prince William County had a chance to get their hands dirty and plant some trees. It was all part of Dominion Virginia Power’s environmental program Project Plant It!, a fun and educational way to help the kids learn about trees and the environment.

Thousands of elementary students in Northern Virginia, including all of the third-graders in Prince William County, were enrolled in Project Plant It! this spring. Teachers got a kit of lesson plans and other instructional tools that aligned with state learning standards for math, science and other subjects. Dominion also provided the students with their own redbud tree seedling to take home on Arbor Day.

Since 2007, Project Plant It! has distributed more than 160,000 tree seedlings to students in several states where the company operates. For more information or to view videos and games about trees, visit

Girls Unimpressed by Facebook Updates Find Google

Mom on the Run


I’m at lunch with Briana, Dayana, and Caroline. Today’s after-Sunday school lunch group is smaller than usual, and it’s all girls. I don’t recall exactly how we got to this particular topic of conversation, but we’re talking about cell phones. Well, I’m talking about my cell phone. The girls know their cell phones inside and out. Mine, however, is pretty much a mystery to me, though I’ve had it for several months.

“See?” I proudly hold out my phone, displaying the screen, as evidence. “I updated the church Facebook page already, with pictures of the choir and of the sermon!” Our choir sang a cappella today and we had a guest speaker. Both were, I thought, of note, and deserving of a Facebook page post.

But, “Um, great,” the girls reply. I guess updating the church page isn’t so exciting or important to them. I am still delighted with my achievement – and with having the idea to do it, really – and I press on. “With pictures! That I took during the service! And I did it all from my phone!”

“Uh-huh, yeah,” they say. They get it. And they are not impressed.

“I just learned how to update Facebook from my phone the other day,” I brag to them, still pretty pleased with myself for figuring it out. “The salesman put the Facebook app on my screen but he didn’t tell me how to use it, so it took me a while of playing with it to find the buttons.”

Finally the girls react; Dayana and Caroline, both in high school, glance at each other and grin. I know they’re laughing at me, and my weak grasp of what they consider to be everyday technology.

And hey! That gives me an idea! “Hey, you guys know all about this stuff, can you show me how to make my phone work?” Caroline, who is fairly new to our church and doesn’t know me that well, murmurs, “Um, yeah, sure,” while Dayana, who has spent entirely too much time with me, broadens her grin.

“Great!” Oh, I am delighted. “Here,” I say to Caroline, because she’s closer, handing her my phone. “Can you show me how to get Google on here? I’ve accidentally done it a few times, but haven’t been able to figure out how I did it.” At this, Dayana moves her hand and covers her mouth. She doesn’t want me to know she’s actively laughing at me.

Caroline is more reserved, and less sure about me, and she has just been given a job to do anyway, so she bites her lip as she takes my phone. She looks at the screen, taps once, and, voila!, “Here,” she says, showing me.

And there, on the screen, the Google homepage! “What? How did you do that?” I can’t believe it was so fast! One tap? I lean in closer, to see the screen.

Caroline taps again, goes back to the main screen. “This button,” she points, and shows me very clearly, running along the whole top of the screen, a long white bar with the Google logo.

“No way!” I say, reaching for my phone. I want to try this myself. “I always thought that was an advertisement or something! That’s a button?” All around me, girls are biting their lips and covering their mouths, really trying hard not to laugh at me, old Lianne.

Then, “Shoot,” I say, shaking my head. “I can’t believe it. All along, that was a button, and not a logo! Wow! That’s really … pathetic.” And at that, all three of my lunch companions can’t take it anymore, and they burst into laughter and they laugh and laugh and laugh.

Stafford’s Civil War Park Opens

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Michael Beard, left, and James Standard, of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, await orders Saturday during opening ceremonies at the Civil War Park in Stafford. [Photo: Keith Walker / For Potomac Local News]

For Potomac Local News

STAFFORD, Va. — It might not have been such a good thing for a Civil War soldier to make it to a field hospital since about one-in-four died there after surgery, according to “Doc” Pete Peters, a Civil War “surgeon” assigned to the Army of the Potomac.

Peters and dozens of other Civil War re-enactors came to Stafford Saturday to help commemorate the county’s opening of a new Civil War Park.

It was mostly infection that did in the wounded, since Civil War-era medics hadn’t a notion of germs, Peterson told people who stopped by his field hospital to get a look at his bone saws scalpels, knives and other medical instruments contemporary to the Civil War.

Peters went on to tell visitors that a good Civil War surgeon could remove a man’s leg in seven minutes and that amputated body parts, the blood and gore associated with 19th Century surgery usually wound up on the floor around the surgeon’s feet.

It was standard operating procedure, he said.

“There would be arms, legs, toes, fingers and everything else lyin’ around,” Peters said told small groups of people who stopped by his tent to see his medical instruments and medicine.

Peters, who wore a “blood-stained” white butcher’s apron, said that as his instruments dulled, a doctor would often use the leather soles of his boots to sharpen them.

“You’ve got to understand I’m steppin’ on everything by virtue of what I’m doing. I didn’t realize that I shouldn’t be doing that,” he said of the instrument-honing methods of Civil War doctors.

Stafford County’s newest 41-acre park, at 400 Mount Hope Church Road, was the site of the Union Army’s 11th Corps, 1st and 3rd Division’s 1883 winter encampment of more than 135,000 soldiers and was dedicated Saturday as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, according to the county website

Peters’ field hospital wasn’t the only stop where people could pick up pieces of Civil War history to take away and store away in their minds.

Visitors to the park opening also had the chance to see re-enactors representing Reilly’s West Point Battery Regulars, 5th Artillery Regiment, charge their teams horses, with cannons rattling behind, to firing positions where gun crews fired the cannons, startling people watching from sidelines in spite of the fact that one of the gun crew soldier yelled, “Fire!” just before the cannon boomed

Joe Slifer, a re-enactor with Reilly’s Battery, was there to give visitors all the information they might want to know about Civil War cannon batteries.

He said it took a lot of men and horseflesh to wage war back in the day.

Each cannon was drawn by six horses. Gun crews had 72 horses harnessed at any time, ready to pull six guns wherever they might need to be positioned, Slifer said.

He went on to say that each team was matched with at least one team of replacement horses, plus horses for outriders, or scouts.

“You had a couple hundred horses, minimum for a one-battery unit,” he said.

Sean Otto, brought his family to the new park to see the sights and came away with a few things he didn’t know before his visit.

“I learned that Stafford has a long history, with the Civil War in particular,” said Otto, a captain with the Va. National Guard’s 276th Engineering Squadron. Today is the 150th Anniversary of this particular camp and 3,500 people died in this camp in that winter.”

Other Civil War-era attractions in Stafford County which help “tell the story of how the war touched our county,” include the White Oak Museum and Chatham Manor, according to the county website.

Oversight Plan to Protect Occoquan Watershed Dies


Contributing Editor

MIDCO (Mid County Civic Association Of Prince William) is a citizens group whose goal is to assist residents in assessing and affecting issues that impact our community.  One of its projects is to develop recommendations for the Occoquan Reservoir Overlay Area called for in the new Environment Chapter of Prince William County’s Comprehensive Plan.  

This project was requested by Kim Hosen, a Prince William County Planning Commissioner.  The purpose of this project is to protect the Occoquan Watershed, and the water that flows into the Occoquan Reservoir.

If you live in Northern Virginia, and are holding a cup of coffee or tea as you read this column, there’s a good chance you drinking water that drained off my back yard into the Occoquan River and eventually into your cup. If you like the idea of clean, unpolluted and readily available drinking water, you probably are interested in the Occoquan Watershed and efforts to protect it.

MIDCO’s report was presented to the Planning Commission at an Occoquan Reservoir Overlay District work session on November 16, 2011.  Prince William County’s Department of Planning listened to the report, and its Board of Supervisor’s must approve before proceeding with the project.

It’s not going to happen.  

In a world of competing priorities, it was the judgment of the Board of County Supervisors not to approve further work on this project.  This may be revisited in the future.  Community feedback may certainly shuffle priorities, but for now it is dead.

For full disclosure, Prince William County’s Director of Planning Chris Price at a recent MIDCO meeting did share that several competing standards such as the Chesapeake Bay Act, and other Federal and State mandates and guidance, are already in place to protect Prince William County’s watersheds. The Occoquan Watershed Overlay District would have added protections specific to this environmentally sensitive area within Prince William County.

The Occoquan Watershed Overlay District may be dead for now, however, people don’t have to wait for the government to start improving water quality and the environment. 

Property owners may take advantage of several programs available to educate homeowners today on how to manage non-native invasive species of plants, reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides on their property, promote natural succession, conserve water via water barrels and sound water management principles, etc.

Wildlife is an indicator of a healthy environment. A healthy environment is good for water quality. Some examples of “self help” include:

– The Prince William County Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Environment and Natural Resources program offers a full range of free classes and educational materials to educate homeowners and businesses on property management best practices. Master Gardener Volunteers are available to consult with homeowners directly on a variety of issues upon request.

– The Northern Virginia Audubon Society Audubon at Home program. This volunteer group is available to consult with homeowners directly on land management best practices. It also has a Wildlife Sanctuary program to certify properties who take specific steps to make their property more environmentally friendly.

– Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) training and Habitat at Home program. VGIF provides training and education for landowners so they may manage and improve their property using best practices to attract wildlife.

If any of this has “hit home” as you take a sip of something made with water that probably ran off my driveway, there is one easy, voluntary step you may take to both improve the quality of your yard while reducing chemicals that run into the water supply.  

Ask a Prince William County Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer to test your soil.

Call Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Horticulture Help Line at 703-792-7747 or perhaps send an email to and ask about their BEST lawns program.  A Master Gardener Volunteer will arrange to visit your home, take a soil sample, and answer lawn care questions.  

Most people simply go to their local hardware store and buy some version of a “four step” program that is based on applying chemicals that their lawn may or may not need throughout the year, or apply pesticides that kill everything in sight including the beneficial insects.  

In the world of lawn amendments, one size does not fit all.  There is a very high probability that homeowners are over-fertilizing and perhaps missing important lawn amendments (such as lime) because they simply don’t know what the composition is of their soil.  The “extras” run off the watershed, or down into the groundwater, and perhaps into that Kool-Aid your child is drinking.

‘Beyond the Pines’ not Cliche, but Undeveloped

042713-Pines_posterMovie Review 


“The Place Beyond the Pines” sounds like a nice place for a picnic. Turns out it’s the Mohawk to English translation for Schenectady, and the title for the movie I saw today.

Now in wider release, the movie stars Ryan Gosling (Drive) as bad boy Luke and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) as rookie cop Avery.

Luke is a carnie with a motorcycle act who travels from town to town. When he revisits Romina (Eva Mendes from Hitch), whom he hasn’t seen in a year, he finds out he has a 3-month-old son.

Romina has moved on and has a new man in her life. Although his son is doing fine and is in a happy and loving home, Luke figures the best thing for him to do is rob some banks so he can provide for this child. He is pretty good at this with his speedy motorcycle getaway, until the rookie cop, Avery trips him up.

I was expecting some kind of epic battle between these two. That is what the trailer seemed to tease, and what the movie did not deliver. Oddly enough, that is not what bothered me. I was glad the movie swerved away from cliché.

Where it went was somewhere between a Greek tragedy and a Shakespearean goat screw. It wasn’t about these guys, Luke and Avery. It was about what these guys did and the impact it had on their lives and the lives of their sons.

This is a great setup, but the sons are pitiful people who do very little to engage the viewer. The whole movie was very plot-driven, and by that I mean the writer had the plot all laid out – and the actors executed it. Nothing seemed to come as a result of on-screen character development or pure character desires.

I know Gosling is cute ladies – I get that – but he tries too hard to be Steve McQueen. Cooper shows off his acting chops and carries the last half of the picture. I wanted to see more from Eva Mendes, and not in the way that you think. She has done some amazing work in the past, but here she is relegated to being the mom who seems embarrassed and ashamed by everything – including her role.

The movie was good at times, even gripping for a moment or two, and then it fell into a slice of life in the usual poor man versus lawman drama. There was great potential here. I walked out of the theater thinking this was probably a great book that let you really see inside the minds of these characters and how they dealt with conflicting motives. From what I could see, this was never a novel, just a screenwriter’s attempt at an epic tale that came up short.

This was an indie film, with no studio oversight, and I love those kinds of films. Unfortunately, sometimes, when you don’t have anybody to answer to, the script and the characters do not get fully developed. It’s so cool, and you want to just shoot it, and the result is not cool.

You can go to “The Place Beyond the Pines” if you want, but bring a snack and a blanket, because at two hours and 20 minutes you may want to nap at times. I give it 2 and a half stars out of 5 and a “nice try.”

Tom Basham is a Virginia filmmaker and writes BashMovies.

Dumfries Officer Completes West Point Leadership Course


Officer of the Week

Dumfries Police Officer Sgt. Jose Vasquez is a newly trained leader.

Vasquez recently graduated from the West Point Leadership Course, which is an academic leadership course that focuses on individual development, handling stress, organization and ethics.

The officer attended the eight hour classes from September 2012 to February 2013.

Vasquez was been a police officer in Dumfries since January 2012. He is one of a handful of dedicated officers in the small town department who patrol the streets of Virginia’s oldest continuously chartered town.


Speakers, Tours Planned for Saturday’s Grand Opening of Stafford Civil War Park

STAFFORD, Va. — Stafford’s Civil War Park will hold its grand opening this Saturday at 10 a.m.

The park is located at 400 Mount Hope Church Road, near the Brooke Virginia Railway Express station. Free parking will be available at the VRE station for those who attend, and a free shuttle will be available to take visitors to the park between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., on Saturday. Those with physical impairments will be allowed to park at the park, while all others are asked to park at the VRE station.

Several events are planned to commemorate the opening of the park. Below is a listing distributed by Stafford County’s tourism department:



HOV Lanes Closings as Work Continues in Pr. Wm., Stafford

Virginia Megaprojects 

At 11 p.m. Friday, April 26, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will close the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on Interstate 395/95 from the Washington D.C. line to the end in Dumfries (Route 234) until 10 a.m. Saturday, April 27 when the HOV lanes will re-open from the Springfield interchange to Dumfries.

The HOV northern section between Washington and Springfield will remain closed until 4 p.m. Sunday, April 28, when the entire HOV system opens northbound.

Additionally, VDOT will close one left-lane on I-395 south between Seminary Road and the Capital Beltway (I-495) at 11 p.m. Friday night, April 26 to 9 a.m. Saturday morning, April 27 and again on Saturday night from 9 p.m. until 10 a.m. Sunday morning. April 28.

These closures will allow crews to drill foundations for sign structures, drainage work along with grading, and barrier work as a part of the 95 Express Lanes Project. Motorists can expect slower travel along the corridor and should add an additional 15 minutes to their trip. VDOT advises motorists to plan for night and weekend construction work throughout the summer and fall months along the 29-mile 95 Express Lanes construction work area. Signs and message boards are posted along the corridor to inform motorists of construction activities. Police will be onsite for motorist’s safety.

On the local scale, work continues in the Prince William County area as well. In the next couple of weeks, motorists will see work at Joplin Road, as crews set the bridge foundation and the piers to support the future 95 Express Lanes ramp to the general purpose lanes of I-95 and Joplin Road. Girders to support the lanes over I-95 will be set in the May or June time frame, so motorists on I-95 South can expect to see lane closures at that time.

At Telegraph Road in Stafford County, crews will be pile driving for the rest of this month and into May as well. Telegraph Road is scheduled to reopen next winter.

Occoquan Mayor Starts Shuttle Service for Train Passengers to Spur Tourism

The Town of Occoquan


OCCOQUAN, Va. — Mayor Earnie Porta of the tiny town of Occoquan is said to be the town’s biggest cheerleader when it comes to letting residents in the region know about special events during holidays, town gatherings, and sales at many of the town’s independently owned small businesses.

Now, instead of just telling people about what’s happening in the town, he’s actually going to bring people there.

Porta started Occoquan Transportation Company, LLC in partnership with Amtrak with the mission of bringing passengers waiting at Lorton’s Auto Train to Occoquan. The shuttle service runs on Saturdays and Sundays between 11:30 a.m. And 2:30 p.m. with stops at the Workhouse Arts Center and Occoquan.

Porta said the idea is to give passengers who normally wait up to three hours for their train something to do while they wait.

Here’s more in a Q&A session with Porta and Potomac Local News:

1. What’s the reason why you started this service?

I’m basically starting the service in the hopes of bringing to Occoquan to eat and shop people who would otherwise probably just be sitting around for hours at a train station with little to do.

2. What’s it’s main function? How does it work?

The shuttle service is basically designed to cater to Lorton Auto Train passengers. They line up to load their cars at 11:30 a.m., and then, in most cases, are marooned at the station until the Auto Train leaves at 3:00.

I’ll be making four pick-ups at the station at 11:30 a.m., noon, 12:30 p.m., and 1 p.m. to shuttle people to the Town of Occoquan (with a stop at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center if passengers desire), where I hope they will eat, shop, generally enjoy themselves, and be motivated come visit us again in the future. The round-trip fare is $5, but children age 12 and under ride for free.

3. What was the level of dedication / financial commitment required to start this?

The margins on this, frankly, are quite tight, which is part of what led me to take this on. With such tight margins no established company was likely to initiate a service like this, and if the Fairfax County Government decided to run a subsidized shuttle, my guess is that their taxpayers would not really favor subsidizing trips to a town in Prince William County.

Consequently, I concluded that the only way to brings these folks into Occoquan and Prince William was for someone locally to set up a targeted service. Given the tight margins sustainability (and hope-for expansion) will depend not only on demand, but on promotional sales, etc.

The LLC I set up currently contracts for the buses and pays individuals to serve as ride docents, so the upfront costs are born by the [limited liability company], but hopefully will be adequately covered by fares and promotional sales.

5. Who will drive?

At the moment I have contracted with a well-established, reputable bus company, who, along with Amtrak, has been very cooperative in setting this up. Drivers, called toute docents, are people that I need basically to be on the buses to collect money, supervise the route, and make sure that everyone gets back to the train station in time.

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