Archive for September, 2014

An Application of Autotomy

Here’s an amusing stock photo captioned by the “It’s Like They Know Us” Tumblr Blog.

I’m getting so much work done. Toddlers are easy.

For those of you with computers and without small children, it’s funny because it’s not true. My children, in particular, have a keen sense of when I’m working on something really important on the computer. They will both drop everything and approach my machine, sticky fingers widespread.

Autotomy - Me Spass Me Want to Delete Production Data
Me Spaz. Me Want to Delete Production Data

When I see them tettering my way, know what the first thing I do is? I quickly unplug my USB mouse. While they are distracted moving that around and doing futile clicks, I have just enough time to sign out of the production database server, save important documents, or move the laptop to a higher elevation. By the time they realize the mouse isn’t doing anything, the laptop (and all my production data!) are safe.

Autotomy - Autotomy in Action
Distracted by USB Mouse

I was enacting that one day and I realized I’m wasn’t particularly inventive. I was employing the exact same defense mechanism salamanders and seemingly other “lower” creatures have used for millions of years.


I drop the USB mouse to distract the predator. The salamander drops its tail. : )

Salamander Dropping Tail (Photo by Gary Nafis of California Herps)
Distracted Modern Day Predator

September 19, 2014 at 10:19 am 1 comment

The Fussypants Song

Like all toddlers, my oldest son has his fair share of emotional moments. And like a lot of mothers, I often find myself perusing various “Mommy Blogs” on the Internet. Somewhere along the line, I read an article (whose author completely alludes me at the moment) that talked about how kids need to feel safe to express their emotions–positive AND negative. When Sagan is upset, we often “take a lap.” One of us carries him in the circle through the rooms on our second floor. Inspired by that now nameless article, I started to sing a simple little song to the tune of Frère Jacques:

You’re my Sagan
You’re my Sagan
I love you
I love you
Even when you’re fussypants
Even when you’re fussypants
I love you
I love you

Well Sagan isn’t especially communicative when he’s upset. He would just sort of zone out and sniff, occassionally wiping his nose against my shoulder. Really, I didn’t think he even noticed the song. Then one day, he bumped his knee and I had the nerve to switch it up a bit and sing Elvis instead.

“No! no!” His crying intensified. “The fussypants song! I want the fussypants song.”

Now that’s our thing. When he’s upset, I’ll ask him, “Do you need a lap?”

He’ll nod.

“Do you need a song?”

He’ll nod.

“Which song?”

“Fussypants song.” he’ll croak out.

I’ll carry him a few laps and sing our song.

I have failed miserably at getting it on video, but Sagan has a stuffed monkey he occassionally plays with. He does baby stuff with it– puts on diapers, feeds it, etc. On a few occassions, I have spied Sagan hugging it and singing the Fussypants Song. It’s super adoreable, but super elusive. Everytime I bring the camera out, the moment subsides.

BUT– two weeks ago, I heard Sagan singing the Fussypants Song to Dyson and I did have success convincing Sagan to sing a few bars for the camera. Sagan’s version of the Fussypants song. Enjoy!

September 17, 2014 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Learning with Losing

Sometime ago, Ryan and I were walking with the kids and he told about an interesting Ted Talk on “Arguing”. It was by Philisopher Daniel H. Cohen and he talks about the winners and losers in arguments. Traditionally we think of someone winning an argument and someone losing an argument. But Cohen suggests that it is the “loser” of the argument that actually walks away with the biggest gain. The winner walks away with nothing but a stroked ego. The loser on the other hand, walks away with a new belief– a “well articulated, examined, battle-tested belief.”

Last week, I was working on a Washington Post crossword puzzle and a whole section stumped me. After revisting the clues again and again without any new insight, I surrendered and decided to Google on my phone. It was, in my mind, the act of defeat. The act of a loser.

The very first clue I decided to Google was “Vanzetti’s Co-Defendant”. And just that like that I was enthralled. The rest of the evening, I found myself immersed in and fascinated by The Sacco and Vanzetti Trials of the 1920s, almost a century ago now. I read account after account until it was well past my bedtime. I read about the questionable aspects of their trials and conviction. I read about the world-wide protests, how renowed personalities such as Albert Einstein and H.G. Wells signed petitions urging another trial. I was surprised (and somewhat amused) at how generations before Johnnie Cochran and O.J. Simpson, there was another famous trial that prominently featured an article of clothing being too small.

Sacco Tries on a Hat, Simpson Tries on Gloves
Source: Boston Post

I never returned to my crossword that night. Days later, those boxes remain glaringly empty. But with a wealth of new information in my mind, I’m having a tough time feeling like I lost.

September 16, 2014 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Family Adventure – DC Skydiving Center

In mid-August, Ryan and I took the boys to Warrenton, Virginia for an afternoon at the DC Skydiving Center. Don’t worry– we didn’t take a 3 year old and 1 year old skydiving. We’re not that adventurous. : )

My friend Meg is fighting cancer for a second time. One of the long-standing items on her Bucket List was to go skydiving. I absolutely did not want to jump out of a plane. No way. But you know what I can do? I can *pay* for someone else to jump out of a plane! (This was made even easier by a serendipitous Groupon). Meg’s longtime friend, Karen, also jumped. Meanwhile, Ryan, the kids, and I watched from the ground. Meg was relaxed and at ease the whole time (She reports skydiving is no where near as scary as cancer). Karen, on the other hand, seemed to be a tad nervous.

DC Skydiving Center - Meg Getting Ready DC Skydiving Center - Karen's Tentative Face

They were both equally ecstatic after the jump and concur it was thrilling and peaceful at the same time. I even heard the phrase “life-changing” when they would re-describe their experiences in the coming days. See also Meg’s recap from her CaringBridge site.

As for the Sommas, even though we stayed put on the ground, the DC Skydiving Center was a fabulous adventure for the kids. In an intimate and disarming setting (so disarming I actually thought, “Huh, maybe I could do this too.”), we got to watch people learn their skydiving basics. We were right there when the plane took off and landed which was a huge thrill for Sagan. We got to watch the sky for the tiny black dots after the plane passed by and we got to watch those dots get bigger and bigger. Eventually the skydivers would land right smack in front of us. And 1 year old Dyson? It turns out skydiving instructors can also make great playmates.

DC Skydiving Center - Instruction 5
Group Learns Basics

DC Skydiving Center - Sagan Waves Bye to Meg and Karen
Sagan Waves Bye to Meg and Karen’s Plane

DC Skydiving Center - Meg Landing 3
Meg Coming to Land

DC Skydiving Center - Dyson with Parachute Instructors
Dyson with his New Friend

If you think about, our family adventure that day was watching someone else’s adventure. But it was just as fun as our usual Sunday adventures… and more fulfilling.

More photos of our visit to the DC Skydiving Center are on my Flickr site.

P.S. Ryan’s already talking about taking the boys skydiving…when Dyson turns 18.

September 15, 2014 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Family Hike – Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge’s Woodmarsh Trail

In late April, we took the boys to visit the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge Area. The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Area encompasses 2000 acres of hardwood forests and six miles of Potomac River shoreline, which means hikes there get a nice mixture of marsh and forest. So “Woodmarsh” was an accurate name for the trail. The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge is free. There is an entrance fee if you choose to drive to the nearby Mason Neck State Park afterwards.

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail - Vicky and Dyson Hiking (By Ryan Somma)

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail - Clouds and Marsh

Trail Overview
The Woodmarsh Trail is about three miles long. With a couple of cut-through trails at Hickory Pass and Fern Pass, you have the ability to “Choose Your Own Adventure” and loop back whenever you feel like it. We took the Spur Trail down to Eagle Point and since we were hoping to see Great Blue Heron nests (See Fauna below), we kept on the eastern most section of trail to skirt along the marsh. We returned via the western section of trail through the woods.

Back when I hiked alone, my decision criteria for “a good trail” would be something like:

  • Invigorating climb (to make you feel accomplished)
  • An overlook or a waterfall (to make you feel awed)

Now that I’m hiking with two small children, a previously overlooked trail feature has taken on new importance:

  • Bridges or wooden walkways.

Wooden structures just call to my older son. He loves running across them. Sometimes over and over and over and over again. : ) For younger children who are just learning to stand and pull up, bridges are a nice opportunity to practice. This trail sported a number of bridges so it was a win for the boys. And then more importantly, there was a nice wooden viewing platform at Eagle’s Point. That simple structure was probably the highlight of the trail for the boys. It was wooden with benches for the boys to climb and crawl on… AND it had a FREE telescope to take in the views. It was their own little private jungle gym with great water views. We only had to walk a flat mile for a “home run.”

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Woodmarsh Trail - Vicky and Dyson Silhouettes at Eagle Point (By Ryan Somma)
Dyson Practicing Standing and Taking in View at Eagle Point

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail - Vicky Holds Sagan Up to Look Through Telescope
Sagan Looking Through the FREE Telescope

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Woodmarsh Trail - Crawling at Eagle Point
Crawling at Eagle Point

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Woodmarsh Trail - Sagan and Dyson Play with Telescope
Climbing and Playing with Telescope

The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest Blue Heron Rookeries. Nesting peaks in April and May, so we came hoping to see one of those 1300 Great Blue Heron nests. Alas, nesting views can only be approached through water or during the annual Bald Eagle Festival at the nearby Mason Neck State Park. We couldn’t see any nests from our vantage point on the land. Nonetheless, we saw our fair share of wildlife. We saw herons and Bald Eagles flying by. We saw a large brown bird (perhaps an an owl) in the tree canopies. Small, but just as entertaining, we found an inch worm at the viewing platform at Eagle Point.

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail - Heron Flying
Not a Nest– but Still Got to See Some Blue Herons

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail - Bald Eagle Flying - Cropped
Bald Eagle Flying

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Woodmarsh Trail - Inchworm with Big Shadow (By Ryan Somma)
Wittle, Baby Inchworm

Mayapples are a favorite wildflower of mine. I love how the big umbrella leaves conceal a tiny, single white flower underneath. We saw Mayapples on this hike and they were budding, but we were just a little bit too early to see the blooms.

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail - Mayapple

What we did seem blooming was Virginia’s State Flower, the dogwood.

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail - Dogwood (By Ryan Somma)
Dogwood Blooms

The trail passed through a section called “Fern Pass.” Our assessment was that was aptly named. It was one of the more beautiful sections, carpetted in green, with the fiddleheads uncurling away.

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge - Wood Marsh Trail -Single Fiddlehead (By Ryan Somma)

More pictures of our Woodmarsh Trail Hike at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge can be found on my Flickr site.

Brochure and Trail Map

Length: Varies – 3.0 Miles of Trail to Choose From

Elevation Gain: Flat!

Entrance Fee: FREE!

September 9, 2014 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

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