Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Green Room Isn't Green, and Other Things I Learned Today

Today has been a day of firsts! It was our first time inside the NBC 4 Studios in DC, our first time being live-tweeted (here, here, and here) and our first time being on a *real* TV! It's all part of the Foster Care excitement we shared a while back.

If you're awake this Sunday morning and you tune into NBC 4, you should see us with Jim Handly and Kamilah Bunn discussing foster care.

I've got to say, I couldn't be more impressed with Jim, Kamilah and everyone over at NBC 4. The whole experience was incredibly smooth. Jim was even kind enough to give us a little tour of the studio. It was awesome! Jim's the ultimate multi-tasker, managing to simultaneously make us feel calm, ask us questions, reassure us that we're doing great, give instructions to the booth and look absolutely flawless. I can't fathom how he does this all at once, but he pulls it off effortlessly.

Shira and I had a blast and we always love an opportunity to talk up Foster Care.

Here are a few photos from our adventure.

Caption Me: Floating Edition

I'll start: Are we there yet?

Please share your captions in the comments.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Is Tougher Better?

I've recently started browsing various sub-reddits on topics that interest me (EDC, GalaxyS5, Travel, etc.) and came across this question in the Survival section:

I believe that the human race as a hole is becoming soft. Being 16 I admire my grandpa dearly, whenever I shake his hands they are as tough as leather and he walks outside to get the news paper every morning all year in bare feet (he lives in upstate NY USA so he gets a fair amount of snow) and I have never heard him complain once. He is a definition hard ass. When equipment fails all you have left is your body for protection, how can I make my hands harder, feet thicker, and just be all around harder. My fingertips are hard from years of guitar playing and feet semi hard from walking on a rock drive way as a child. Any ideas on hardening your body?

The top answer was actually quite delightful:

Is hard the only option? Or the best option? Maybe we think of hard as the best way because we are afraid of what may come, so we strategize in terms of armor -- putting shields over our bodies, walls in front of our hearts, and rigid structures around our thinking. But it may just turn out that by hardening ourselves we are already losing the liberty that we hope to preserve.

What about responsive, and adaptable, and relaxed?

The teeth are hard, and their hardness is useful; but the teeth chip and crack and eventually fall out. The tongue is soft, and because of that it lasts a long time. (I'm not just talking about our physical makeup here, I'm pointing at alternative approaches.) A boulder is ancient, and strong, but when water flows onto it the boulder wears down and can eventually be penetrated or split.

Read the entire answer here.

I love a number of things about this reply: first, it doesn't simply dismiss the question or the fact that it's being asked by a "kid." But really, I love the (hippie?) notion that there are a number of different paths one can take to being resilient. Sure, there's cross-fit-bench-press-anything resilient. But there's also being flexible, creative, and many other approaches too.

This echos a story I recently heard on The Moth (download the whole episode here). In it, a father needs to come to grips with his wimpy son. Again, different paths. It's definitely worth a listen.

And finally, I love anything that refutes the notion that the Good 'Ol Days were somehow fundamentally better than today. Sure, parts were and parts weren't. Back in the Wild West Men may have been Men, but they also frequently died of cholera.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Four Boys, The Nats and A Good Time (Despite Losing)

The Home Team didn't win. But that's OK, we still had a really fun time this last weekend at the 'ol Ball Game. The Four Boys (and Mom) were there, and it was fantastic catching up with them. It's official, they are grown up and I'm old. But, I'm OK with that.

We tried a new mode of transport to the game: via Bike. It took us about an hour to traverse the 5 miles to the park, and I really enjoyed it. The usual Metro ride is fine and all, but I'd rather peddle then wait for the next train. As you can see, there was plenty of bike parking:

As if seeing the Boys, riding our bikes, and having a Kosher Schwarma weren't enough, I also saw this guy while we were riding home:

I do believe that's a Black Crowned Nigh Heron. It's hard to tell in the above photo, but he had awesome red rings in his eyes. Very spooky.

Seriously, what more could I ask for from a day?

Running Riverbend - Trails, Wildlife and History, Oh My!

Over the weekend we did a 4 mile trail run through Riverbend Park in Great Falls, VA. Riverbend Park is just North of the very well known Great Falls National Park. Great Falls overshadows Riverbend in popularity, which is a good thing, as it means less competition for parking and trail use.

Riverbend Park exceeded my expectations in nearly every way.

Proximity: Check. It was something like a 45 minute drive to the park from our home.

Trails: Check. They were "real" enough to feel like we were roughing it in the woods, yet, well groomed enough to run on. We did an obvious 4 mile loop. Apparently, the park has something like 10 miles of trails all combined. The park also connects up to my beloved Potomac Heritage Trail, which goes on for miles and miles.

Wildlife: Check. I love how the frog we saw in the swamp blended perfectly with the swamp, and the frog we saw in the sand, blended perfectly in the sand. Oh natural selection, is there no problem you can't solve? We also saw a couple of (very harmless) snakes, some interesting birds and deer.

Activities: Check. There's fishing encouraged, boats to rent and a nature center. We didn't use any of the facilities, but it's good to know they are there.

History: check. We came across a small structure marked "T Terresi 1942," but according to this report, that's just the tip of the iceberg:

Riverbend has many rare and unique resources. A site survey using shovel tests and surface surveys was conducted by Mike Johnson from the Cultural Resource Protection office. His surveys documented more than 80 prehistoric and historic sites, finding more American Indian sites at Riverbend Park than any other park in the FCPA. Additionally, historic research and documentation has identified Riverbend as the site of Conn’s Ferry which was the Ferry used by President James Madison when he was fleeing from the British during the War of 1812. Conn’s farm was an early 19th century farm which continued to be a working farm up into the 20th century. Conn’s family retained African-American slaves. In the early 1800’s one of these African-Americans escaped to freedom. It is believed that he was aided by the famous Underground Railroad network.

So yeah, the trail marked "Madison's Escape" is *that* Madison. The report goes on to explain that there are number of home and moonshine sites throughout the park. So yeah, "Bootlegger" trail was really used by Bootleggers. I'm going to have to drag Shira back to the park to do some off trail exploration. I'd love to find some of the history outlined in the above report, as well as annotated here.

Riverbend is truly an excellent place to visit, especially on days when Great Falls is overflowing with people. (Like, say, Memorial Day weekend.)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shields Up, Cloaking Device On

I'm taking an afternoon walk with Shira when I spy this bright organge butterfly. By the time I have my phone unlocked and the camera open, this guy has put his wings together to form almost perfect camouflage.


I waited for a bit, but the butterfly won. I was forced to walk away before he opened up his wings.

Still, in many respects the camo side of this guy is just a impressive as the bright orange side.

It's possible that this guy was a Monarch Butterfly. If so, he had another trick up his sleeve for defense along with invisibility:

male monarch lays its eggs (1) on a sprouted milkweed plant. The eggs hatch in four to five days producing tiny yellow, black and white banded larvae (caterpillars). These caterpillars (2) will feed solely on milkweed and eat enormous quantities because they are growing fast. They will grow to 2,700 times their original size in only two weeks, molting five times in the process. At three weeks old the caterpillar will enter the pupa stage (3) and gradually change into an emerald green case ringed with golden dots called a chrysalis (4). Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar rebuilds into an adult butterfly (5) which, at five weeks old, climbs out of the chrysalis (6) (7) head first. Its bright orange and black wings (8) (9) signal to predators, "Beware!" Why? Monarchs are what they eat! The milkweed's "milk" or white latex is both acidic and somewhat poisonous to many animals. Since a monarch cater-pillar feeds solely on milkweed, it absorbs these substances into its body and stores them throughout its life. Therefore, the monarch tastes awful to many of its predators.

That's right, by ingesting a poisonous plant, they become poisonous themselves. Any their bright color let's then use the Lubber Grasshopper Defense. For such a tiny creature, it sure is clever.

Vivobarefoot Ultra Running Shoes - The Best Shoe I Can't Recommend

First there were the blisters. And then the sore calves. And then a week or two of my feet just plain hurting. But now, now I love running my Vivobarefoot Ultra Running Shoe. I don't bother using the 'sock' or 'tongue' that comes with the shoes. So yeah, effectively I'm running in Crocks. Doesn't matter, they are lightweight, comfortable and generally fun to run in.

So, should you go out and buy a pair? Almost certainly not.

Here's the thing, the Vivobarefoot's truly give you the sensation of running without shoes. It turns out, however, that most of the time shoes really are handy. Specifically, when the terrain is anything other than smooth pavement. Seriously, I feel every single stone and rock when I run with these guys. On my last run, I came across this section of stones:

In nearly any pair of shoes, this section would be no big deal. But in the Vivobarefoot's, traversing those stones are like walking through a mine field. And scenarios like the above one are actually easier to navigate in some respects than a random rock on the sidewalk. On a number of occasions I've neglected to notice said rock, and I've nearly done serious damage to my feet. That little chunk of rock you casually walk over with your Nikes is like a knife blade when wearing these shoes.

Another catch with these shoes: they do terribly as "water shoes." It's true, you can step in a stream or on the beach without worrying that your feet will get waterlogged. However, when the water does drain , all that's left are rocks, sand and mud. All that grit makes for the perfect environment for blisters.

I don't think I've ever been this conflicted about a pair of shoe. On one hand, they really are comfortable and make for a unique running experience. On the other, they don't provide the most basic protection against the elements, which is pretty much the first thing a shoe should be doing. So while I'm not ready to part with them, do yourself and favor and don't purchase them. You don't want to fall in love with them, and then have your heart (or feet?) broken when you use them in any sort of real world conditions.

By the way: if your goal is to attract attention, then by all means, pick up a pair of these guys. I've never had some many questions about my footwear in my life. People love these guys.

Perhaps some True Barefoot Running Guru can chime in and tell me what I'm doing wrong. Maybe it's just wimpy, tender-feet that are to blame here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our Foster Care 15 Minutes of Fame

Shira and I are both humbled and flattered to be selected as Arlington County's 2014 Foster Parents of the Year. Remember that behind the scenes shot I posted a few months back? That was a snapshot I took of a video crew capturing footage for a short movie we're featured in.

The Arlington Citizen paper has a writeup of us, too:

Tonight was Arlington County's Foster Parent Night Out, a dinner that honors all foster parents in the area. We heard a number of highlights from this last year, and let me tell you, all the foster parents are amazing. The dedication and creativity of the whole bunch really showed tonight.

If there's one take away from all this press, it's that our story doesn't have to be unique. You can be the one making a difference in a child's life, you just have to jump in and do it. Regardless of whether you have kids or not, are married or not, have any experience with this sort of thing or not, you can still be an amazing Foster Parent. Yes, it's a leap, but you'll be making a profound impact in the life of a child (or children!) who desperately need it. If we can do this, you can do this.

OK, I'm getting off my soapbox now. Here, watch our video. And thanks to all those who have passed on their congratulations for this honor.

Is That Feather Safe To Touch?

Say, you're running along the trail and you discover a bird feather. Is it safe to pick up?

My default reaction is no. But why? Feathers carry diseases. Right?

It's interesting how common this reaction is. Take this sequence of events from this article:

Lowering my camera, I focus in on what has now captured one's attention.

"Don't pick that up!"

It's a feather.

He pauses and looks up at me, his fingers inches from the feather.

"Don't pick that up. They can carry disease."

Like the author, somewhere along the lines I was told that feathers are inherently dangerous. And yet, they are almost certainly not. The general consensus appears to be it's bird poop on the feathers that's a problem (that's where nasty bacteria would live). Other than that, you aren't going to catch West Nile Virus (that involves blood, and most likely mosquitoes) or lice or mites.

And yet, advice that bird features should be avoided is still dispensed.

OK, so assuming you can safely touch feathers (I'm touching everything else in the woods, why not feathers?), what the heck are they good for?

Well, for one thing, Feathers Are Amazing. Collecting them for their beauty alone makes sense.

Another use: to craft a fishing fly out of. This puts a twist on the improvised fishing I like to do, and is definitely something I'm going to have to try.

I thought this brief story summed up my take on feathers well:

I have issues with feathers too because my Mother told me they had lice, when I was little.

I still can't pick them up, or let DS1 pick them up without feeling gross.

Recently Mum was collecting feathers with DS1 and I said something shocked. She said 'Oh, I probably just told you that because I didn't want you collecting them'. Thanks Mum. Way to give me a life long paranoia!

So yeah, parents, be careful what you teach your kids. They may just listen to you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Name that Tree: Terminal Velocity Edition

Yesterday, we were waiting in Windy Run Park's parking lot for our running buddy to arrive when I heard a noticeable thump. I couldn't resist getting out of the car to investigate, and what I found was this gorgeous flower head:

I looked up and around and didn't see any tree (or launching device) responsible for the projectile. Then, a couple of minutes later, there was another thump--this one on our dashboard:

We were under attack.

OK, something was doing this and it was time to figure out what. I got out of the car and poked around even further. Eventually I realized that the unusually tall tree above us did indeed have flower heads that matched those that had been launched on us just a few minutes earlier. So what kind of tree was it?

Let's just say that Google is too kind. Looking at the leaves (which in my defense were really high up), I guessed I was dealing with a Maple tree of some sort. So I dropped some search terms into Google Images. Before I knew it, I had found this page with these pictures:

Ahhh, yes, I was dealing with a Tulip Tree, or more specifically Liriodendron Tulipifera. The description as "a large, stately, deciduous tree of eastern North America that typically grows 60-90'" seemed right on to me.

There are a number of notable Tulip Trees, including: one George Washington planted at Mt. Vernon and Queen's Giant,considered the oldest living thing in New York City. Heck, a number of notable trees in Arlington are Tulip Trees. Another important historic fact: Daniel Boone's canoe was made from a Tulip Tree. These are truly stunning trees.

If you're going to be attacked from the sky (or dare I say, pooped on?) by a tree, hope it's a Tulip Tree.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Running Scott's Run

This last weekend we did a quick trail run through Scott's Run, a relatively small chunk of wilderness just outside the DC Beltway. What the run lacked in distance (we only did 2.75 miles) it made up for in gorgeous terrain. We did an obvious loop. However, I'm pretty convinced that we could cover more ground by taking some side trails or even doing some bushwhacking.

One of the neat features of Scott's Run is a waterfall that drops into the Potomac River. As we started our run I remarked how all the rain we had surely would make for a more robust display. Alas, we had a bit *too* much rain. When we arrived at the river it was obviously swollen. Check out the trees in the photo below:

And there were the "falls." They were more like a speed bump that day:

Still, the sun was shining, the trail wasn't too busy (at least away from the falls it wasn't) and we were out in the fresh air. What else could one ask for?

This would definitely be a fun place to take younger kids. They could tackle a full circuit and get the whole outdoorsy experience, all without leaving Northern Virginia.

View Scott's Run in a larger map

Monday, May 19, 2014

Row, Row, Row Your Kayak

This past weekend, I was looking for another activity my parents would enjoy. With the sun shining (hurray!), I cajoled everyone into renting kayaks. We did so out of Belle Haven Marina, right outside of Old Town Alexandria. They promised me that no experience was necessary, which was an encouraging sign. Both my Mom and Dad have had at least one kayaking lesson, so I had high hopes that they would be OK.

My Dad got into his own kayak, and I held my breath as they pushed the vessel into the water. Immediately, he was paddling around like a pro. Then came my Mom and we repeated the drill. Again, I held my breath, but my concern was all for nothing; within a few seconds she had herself re-oriented and was tooling around like a pro. Shira suggested we rent a double kayak. This turned out to be a brilliant move. This allowed me to sit in back and snap photos (hundreds of them, of course) while she did all the work of paddling.

By launching out of Bell Haven, you're able to explore the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve from the water. We only covered a small section of it, but it was really interesting and really was as easy as the folks at the marina suggested. There was a bit of wind which made for a few waves and a noticeable current, but my Mom and Dad had no problems dealing with the conditions. And I had Shira, so I had nothing to worry about.

One highlight of the trip (besides having nobody fall in the water or needing to call the coast guard for rescue) was watching an Osprey swoop down and grab a fish out of the water. It was like something out of a nature documentary.

I'm definitely looking forward to going back and exploring further. I may even try paddling next time. Though, with all the photos that need taking, I probably won't have time.