Saturday, March 28, 2009

North Anna Nuclear Power Station

Ah, Spring. And what better spring outing than a visit to our own nuclear power plant? Actually, our intent was to spend a little time at the North Anna Nuclear Information Center, the visitor center at Dominion’s power station, which we figured would take around 30 minutes or so, and then stop at the Lake Anna Winery on the way home. Instead, we ended up spending over 2 hours at the information center, chatting with Mike Duffey, the center’s coordinator, learning more about nuclear power than I will ever need to know, and discussing the future of energy production in the U.S.

It was a very educational experience for me, who is not particularly scientifically inclined. I definitely felt only about as smart as a fifth grader, and if I had been in a group, I would have stayed at the back, hoping Mike wouldn’t call on me to answer any questions. I learned about nuclear fission, followed the process of producing electricity from the uranium mine to the light switch, saw a film about managing nuclear waste, and heard a bit about alternative energy sources. The center has all kinds of hands-on exhibits (Pedal a bike to create electricity! Use your body to complete the electrical circuit! Play the energy trivia game!) which makes it a favorite of school groups. I’d recommend it highly for upper elementary or middle school students with an interest in science.

Of course, the presentation is designed to present nuclear power in the best possible light. The bass on display only had one head, and no one mentions Homer Simpson (well, except me). Alternative energy sources like solar and wind power are dismissed as being unable to handle the constant demands of the average American household. You’d need to do a little research on your own to find out the latest advances in alternative energy, or to discover new ways to conserve. But aside from the expected pro “big utility” spin, I found the visit to be educational and engaging. The center is open weekdays from 9 to 4, and admission is free.

And we’ll just have to save the Lake Anna Winery for another time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mary Washington Revisited

The University of Mary Washington should really be on anyone’s “most beautiful campus” list, and we always enjoy walking around the grounds. Yesterday on a walk through campus, we noticed the “Welcome to the New Lee Hall” sign above the door of the building, so decided to stop in and check it out.

My first job when I moved to Fredericksburg after college graduation (over 30 years ago) was as a clerk at Mary Washington (so much for the art degree), back in the days when Lee Hall housed the C-Shop, and where we used to go to play pinball (the old mechanical kind, before the digital age) and drink beer. The building has been through several incarnations since then, but the latest renovation is particularly nice. The building continues to house a variety of student services, like the new student accounts center.

On the floor above (I have no idea how they number the floors) is the new bookstore, where we stopped in and took a look around...

and upstairs from that, the large ballroom has been renovated into 3 smaller venues, but the architectural features, like the decorative wooden beams, have been preserved. The Underground student pub is getting a nice facelift, too, although it won’t be open for awhile.

The campus trees are starting to bloom and the campus looked particularly scenic, so we just strolled around, soaking up the atmosphere and taking pictures.

I ran into a friend who is the director of landscaping and grounds at the school, and she told me the color of this weeping willow was special, so I took a photo. Not that I know anything about trees.

The trees were in bloom on Ball Circle, and white Adirondack chairs were scattered around for lounging or reading or soaking up the sun.

This is the fountain in front of the Jepson Science Center. I love fountains. I think they improve any public space, as long as they're not turned off. Which is just a sad sight to see.

Across Rt. 1 from the college at the Park & Shop shopping center, work is underway on Eagle Village, a new college-owned development that will include student apartments, plus shopping, restaurants, and offices. So far, they've gotten as far as tearing down Roses, which now looks like this:

For more Mary Washington exteriors, click here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Meade's Pyramid

I had the afternoon off the other day (courtesy of the crappy economy), so we decided to check out Meade’s Pyramid, off of Lee Drive in the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park. I hadn’t heard about this Fredericksburg oddity until fairly recently (thanks, Nancy K., for the tip)—am I the last to know about this?

The 30 ft. square, 23 ft. high pyramid sits alongside the railroad tracks, and marks the place where Union Gen. George Meade’s troops broke through Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate lines during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862. The Union troops were ultimately beaten back by the Confederates, and as all Fredericksburgers know, the battle ended badly for the North.

In the decades following the war, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society wanted to commemorate significant Civil War sites along the tracks, to be seen by train riders as they made their way through the area. The project didn’t go very far, with this pyramid being the only one completed, probably dating to 1897. It’s modeled after a monument in Richmond’s historic Hollywood Cemetery, and contains over 17 tons of Virginia granite.

To check out the pyramid, drive to the parking area at the end of Lee Drive in the battlefield park that starts off of Lafayette Blvd. in the city. There you’ll find displays about the Battle of Fredericksburg, including cannons and artists’ renderings, plus a short trail that leads to Hamilton's Crossing, a former railroad depot that played a significant role in the war. You can see the pyramid in the distance from Lee Drive, where there is an informational display about it. We walked across the field to get a close up view. It sits on the other side of the tracks, but DO NOT CROSS the tracks, please. Instead, stay safely back, and enjoy the sight and sound of the train that is sure to come by while you’re there.

The battlefield displays at the end of Lee Drive:

The trail down to Hamilton's Crossing:

If a tree falls on your Civil War sign, does it make a sound?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Virginia Bazaar, Latin Chicken, Wood Shavings

We’ve driven past the Virginia Bazaar indoor flea market at Exit 110 off of I-95 many times, and have heard the horrendous, yet catchy, jingle of its ads. So we thought that a trip down there would be a good outing to save for a rainy day. With nothing else on the agenda today, we headed to Ladysmith in the rain to check out the scene. From the ads, I always secretly thought that the place would be some kind of magical emporium, filled with fantastic treasures everywhere I turned, and bargains that no sane person could pass up. I was hoping that it would even be a great destination to take out-of-town guests when the weather was bad. Turned out, I was wrong. The place is filled with the same kinds of “antiques” (read: used stuff) and collectible crap you can find just about anywhere. Now, I know some people are serious collectors of sports memorabilia or beanie babies or vintage glassware, but for the rest of you, if you haven’t been here, you haven’t missed a thing. I will admit that maybe a rainy March day wasn't the best time to judge the place. There is space for many outdoor vendors, and maybe in the summer, the atmosphere is more fun if the outdoor vendors are out in force. On the plus side, admission and parking is free, and it's a pleasant enough drive down there (take Rt. 1 for the scenic tour of rural Caroline), so we'll probably give it another go in the summer just to make sure we didn't miss anything.

Tons of sports memorabilia. Not my cup of tea.

There were a lot of framed, signed original jerseys that were kind of cool to see, like this one of Boog Powell's. I guess this is the kind of decor you'd want if you owned a sports bar:

Honestly, does anyone even collect beanie babies anymore?

You can get all the books you want from the book sale at the library for $2 or less. No need to spend $7 on these:

Really? People BUY this stuff?

Priceless antiques, I'm sure:

Look, the kind of old stereo equipment all of us used to have, like speakers the size of telephone booths:

To salvage the outing, we decided to stop for a bite on the way home at Pollo Campero, a fast food restaurant at Cosner’s Corner. We don’t generally go for fast food, but this one held out the promise of the kind of tasty grilled chicken we’ve gotten at the Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken places in town. The restaurant is relatively new to the U.S., with only 34 franchises in this country, but with many more locations in Mexico and Central America. Known as “the Latin KFC,” the company’s mission is to be the leading Latin American chicken restaurant chain in the world, and I’d guess they have that distinction locked up. The place was packed when we got there, and we were the only gringos in sight, an excellent sign. The food was pretty good, and had some Latin specialties you don’t find too often, like yucca fries, fried plantains, and flan. But don’t go there if you don’t want chicken, because that’s all they have. No burgers, no sandwiches, no vegetarian options—just chicken, fried or grilled, in a handful of permutations. Not as fast or as cheap as more typical fast food chains, but worth a visit for sure.

Then a quick stop at World Market, because I love that store so much, where I wandered the aisles until I stopped dead at this display. And I knew that for all of the readers of my blog who are serious wood shaving aficionados, I had to take this photo. Woodfan69 and Woodforbrains520, this is for you. I know you grow your own free-range wood shavings up there in the northern outlands, and thought you might like to see this photo of wood shavings in captivity.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dear Mother Nature

Stop messing with my daffodils.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Music on Mondays in March

The downtown library is offering a new concert series, “Music on Mondays in March,” which started tonight with the Quintessential Brass Repertoire, an outstanding group of professional musicians. One of the trumpeters is Zack Smith of the Dixie Power Trio (they often play locally), a couple of members are in U.S. military bands (always a good sign), and all of the players were top notch. They played a great mix of music, including light classical pieces, jazzy numbers, and a couple of Herb Alpert tunes (a big name from my 60’s-era youth). One of my favorites of the evening was “Mystery Medley”--instead of snippets of songs in succession, the piece featured the tunes layered on top of each other, including Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Pachelbel’s Canon, Puff the Magic Dragon, and the Burger King theme.

One small quibble: the library auditorium is a great venue for the performing arts, but they kept the glaring overhead fluorescent lights on throughout the performance. I’m not sure why the house lights never went down, even though the room is equipped with theatrical spotlights on a track in front of the stage which went unused. It would have made the evening much nicer to sit in a darkened room with the focus on the performers. Maybe next time. We’ll definitely try to get back for next week’s performance by “Driftwood Fire,” described as “Appalachian bluegrass and jazz.” Concerts start at 7 pm. Here’s the complete March schedule.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Signs of Spring

With super warm temperatures this weekend (it hit 80 today), we decided to get back in the habit of walking the downtown neighborhoods. Saturday’s outing took us to the neighborhood below the college, from Sunken Road to Kenmore Ave. I was searching for the first signs of spring, and I know that many of the folks in that neighborhood take their gardening very seriously. If there was anything in bloom yet, I’d find it there. And I did.

The buds are out on the trees, the crocus in sunny spots is blooming, and I even saw some periwinkle with a few purple flowers. Most of the daffodils aren't out yet, but I did see this one small bunch of early bloomers:

This garden, near Kenmore, is ready for spring planting.

Fredericksburgers can never have enough mulch. Mulch is big business. We love our mulch.

There was plenty of action at Kenmore Park. Tennis and lacrosse players were practicing, there was a kickball game underway, and the playground was filled with kids of all ages.

On the corner of Monument and Littlepage, I found yet another hidden cemetery. I don't know how I've missed this one in my walks:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Salem Church Library Expansion

We stopped by the Salem Church Library this afternoon to check out the grand re-opening of the new expanded facility. The expansion is quite nice—as a librarian friend of mine noted, there’s a Borders feel to the place now. All that’s missing is a coffee bar. Today the place was hopping. They have greatly increased the number of public access computers to 50, and it seemed like every one was in use today. There is a spacious kids’ area, and even a play area for the littlest kids. The adult non-fiction was set up like a bookstore, with easy-to-see subject signs. Plus quite a few small study rooms, a spacious reading room, and my favorite new feature, self checkout stations. It's laptop friendly, and there's even a drive-through book drop. I’m a regular library user, so I’m glad to see my tax dollars at work in a way I can enjoy.

Here's the main room, with the large central bank of computers.

Kind of a bookstore feel, no?

Guess what room this is:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mega Storm

At least that's what all of the news programs have been calling it. In our neck of the woods, it might not qualify as mega, but even 4 to 6 inches around here is nothing to sneeze at. We spent a good part of the morning shoveling the driveway and digging out cars. Not that I have anywhere I need to go.

My northeastern brothers like to get out the yardstick and take photos showing how deep the snow got. Well, three can play that game:

Here's a sight I don't often see:

We even dusted off the Toro electric shovel and gave it a spin. This isn't a product endorsement--I did just as well kicking the snow aside with my boots.