Category Archives: Tracy

Holiday Letter 2020

Dear family and friends,

2020 has been quite a year, with lots of great adventures for the whole family:

  • We finally got to see Hamilton live on stage at the Kennedy Center;
  • The whole family went on a wonderful cruise through Scandinavia, Scotland, and Iceland;
  • We saw Cirque du Soleil when it came to the D.C. area;
  • Sasha competed in a number of Irish dance competitions around the region; and
  • Tracy resumed her WordCamp speaking presence with talks in Washington, D.C. and Lancaster, PA.

At least, we assume that’s what our counterparts did this year in the alternate universe where COVID-19 wasn’t a thing.

Instead, like you, we spent much of our year hunkered down and doing our best to stay healthy. Fortunately, none of us caught the virus, at least as far as we can tell.

And so while our Hamilton tickets went unused and we contented ourselves to watch the Broadway recording on Disney+, we were grateful that Mark’s job at the National Institutes of Health is going well (albeit from home, of course) and Tracy’s WordPress development business had a strong year. Lois couldn’t attend her knitting camps in Vermont, of course, but busied herself knitting and cooking at home.

The kids (Sam in 10th grade, Sasha in 7th) have been “going” to school via Zoom all year, and will probably continue to do so in the second semester. Sasha’s drama club still did its fall play: a radio drama version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; details on how to hear it will be posted on the family here when available. Sam found ways to connect with his friends through online gaming, and Sasha did virtual “movie nights” with her friends, and kept up her voice lessons and dancing remotely.

We hope you’re all doing well also in this crazy, topsy-turvy year. Here’s hoping that 2021 brings a more normal year and an end to this pandemic. Keep safe, stay healthy, and have a happy holiday season.

All the best,
The Rotton + Finifter Family

Help Me Choose!

Okay, people of the Internets. I need your help. I’ve been offered by various family members a new notebook computer for my birthday, but I’m torn between two Apple offerings: the 15″ MacBook Pro and the 13″ MacBook. On one hand, I’m drooling over the lighter weight and smaller form factor of the 13″ MacBook and I’ve always thought that the MacBook Pro I have now was a bit overkill for me, at least when I got it (but at the time, it was the only Intel machine Apple offered). On the other hand, the graphics capabilities of the MacBook Pro are much better than its little sibling, and the higher screen real estate (which is what I’m used to now) would be useful when working with iPhoto and iMovie (two applications I’m using more and more).

Now, since this is going to be a gift, cost is not technically a factor, but I’d prefer not to break my benefactors’ banks. So asking for a MacBook would be a kinder request.

So what do you think? Please vote in my poll and help me decide. Thanks!

[poll id=”1″]

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t normally do this, mostly because I loathe New Years (it’s just another reminder to me that I’m getting older etc. etc.), but I actually have TWO resolutions for this coming year.  Normally, I don’t have any because I believe that any change you want to make in your life shouldn’t have to wait until some arbitrary date on a calendar.  Nevertheless, things have gotten to the point in my life where I feel like I need to take action, now, on two fronts:

#1: Clean Up My House

This is a little more than just scrubbing the bathroom (and honestly, I don’t even do that; I have a housekeeper who does a much better job than I can do). I mean going through every nook, every cranny, and every pile of crap in my house and getting it all under control. Scanning in the kids’ art projects and sending the originals off to the grandmothers. Getting rid of the mementos I haven’t looked out (or taken out of boxes) in 4 years. Get my house into some sort of organized shape so that it doesn’t look like a FEMA zone all the time.

A one off on this theme is to redo the basement into a kids playroom so that we can get most of the toys out of the living room (where we’re always tripping on them) and into a dedicated space that the kids can call their own. This includes laying down new flooring since the cats have ruined the carpet there.

Another related part of this is to redo the floor in the kitchen. The original vinyl tiling that’s there has been peeling up since pretty much we bought the house and if we ever want to sell the place ourselves, that needs to be fixed up.

It’s a big project, bigger than it sounds, and maybe I should call it more “organize my life”, but if I can tackle the clutter that I live in, it will be that much of an improvement in my life.

#2: Don’t Buy Any More Books Until I’ve Read the Ones I Have

I should probably add to that “ask for books as gifts”. I have a pile of books I’d love to read, but I simply don’t have the time. Why compound the problem with more books? In fact, I haven’t read a single book I received as a gift for Christmas 2007! So I really don’t need any more. I don’t need to buy them, and I don’t need to ask for them. I need to read what I’ve got.

And the same goes for audiobooks. I recently bought one that I’ve only listened to the first 3 chapters of. I can’t listen to them in the car because no one else in my family wants to listen to them (and they’re almost always in the car with me, especially during the daily commute). I find it hard to listen at work because I can’t concentrate on the text and what I’m working on at the same time. So again, no time.

Basically, both of these resolutions come down to setting priorities. I’m going to find the time to clean my house and read my books. I have no idea how I’m going to accomplish this and still get any sleep, but I have 365 days to figure that out.

The Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe You’ve Ever Tried

They’re chewy, they’re moist, and they’ve been compared crack. And now you can bake these delicious treats in your very own home:


  • 1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 c firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c bread flour (yes, BREAD flour. this is important.)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I use Penzey’s Vietnamese cassia, very strong stuff.)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 3 c oatmeal, uncooked
  • 2 c raisins

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Beat together butter and sugars in stand mixer with flat blade. Add egg, egg yolk, milk and vanilla; beat well. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add flour mixture slowly to batter; mix well. Stir in oats and raisins; mix well. Using ice cream scoop, drop batter onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Chill in refrigerator for at least an hour. Bake 14-17 minutes in a 350°F oven. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack. Makes 24 cookies.

Sammy vs. Santa

I’ll spare the gory details of the entire weekend, only that we’re in the midst of holiday cheer.

However, I will relate the story of Sammy vs. Santa Claus. For weeks I’ve been telling Sammy that we need to go see Santa Claus so that he can tell him what he wants for Christmas. We even wrote a letter Sammy could give him detailing his preferences. And finally the day came, Sunday, when we were off to Lakeforest Mall with, I believe, one of the best Santa layouts in Suburban Maryland.

Sammy was reasonably good in the long line, as was Sasha who didn’t get fussy until we were approaching. A little nosh (yes, while standing in line) seemed to appease her. As for Sammy, I let him play with my iPhone for a little while, which backfired when it was our turn and I had to yank it out of his hand when he refused to give it back to me.

Sasha, who has been plagued with both separation anxiety and stranger anxiety lately, was a perfect angel. She gave Santa her biggest toothless smile and did everything she was supposed to do. Then there was Sammy.

I tried placing Sammy on Santa’s lap. His response was to start crying and then hop off. I gave Sammy the letter he had written, which he then threw at Santa and tried to run off.  Finally, after coaxing from the photographer and from me, he stood sort of next to Santa clutching a tiny basketball squeaky toy, and then finally sat on my knee as I kneeled down next to Santa.

At one point, he gave the photographer one of his “I’m in pain!” smiles. I tried to tell her that that was his smile and that she should get the shot off quickly, but I don’t think she quite believed me.

We managed to get off a few passable pictures which we got in prints and on a USB key (a cool l feature that I think is a smart way to go), we were done, much to Sammy’s relief.

Sasha doesnt look that happy, but Sammy cooperated for this picture.
Sasha doesn't look that happy, but Sammy cooperated for this picture.

2008 Christmas Letter

Greetings from the Rottons:
Mark, Tracy, Sammy & Sasha

It’s been an exciting year for the Rottons.
On July 11, at 2:43 in the morning, we
welcomed Alexandra Elaine Rotton into the
family.  She weighed in at 8 lb 8 oz and is a
healthy and active bundle of energy.  We
call her “Sasha” (it’s the Russian equivalent
of “Alex”).

Sammy is now a very precocious three year
old.  He recently switched to a new
preschool located in the same building in
which Tracy works.  With Sasha there too,
the whole family gets to be together every

Mark and Tracy are still working for Discovery Communications.  We invite everyone to enjoy the fine programming on the Discovery Channel’s family of networks. You can keep up with all our happenings on our newly relaunched blog:

You can also follow us on Twitter! Mark is @atarinut, Tracy is @taupecat and Sammy is @sammyrotton. (Sasha will get her account when she learns to talk. 🙂 )

To reach us in more traditional ways, call or email us:


Listening to Video Podcasts w/o the Video on Your iPhone

I subscribe to several news video podcasts (such as the NBC Nightly News) that I listen to at work. I subscribe to the video feeds because I like to have the video option available, although 90% of the time I’m content to just listen to it. And since this is at work (and I don’t keep an iPhone cable with me), I’m often concerned about exhausting the iPhone’s battery before the end of the day.

So, in order to keep power consumption at bay, I’ve found a trick to turn off the video on a video podcast yet still listen to the audio content. By default, you can turn off the screen on audio content and continue listening, but to do so on any video content will also turn the audio off. Here’s the way around that:

  1. Go to Settings > General > Home Button and check “iPod” under “Double-clicking the Home Button goes to:”. Also, set the slider for “iPod Controls” to “On”.
  2. Go into iPod mode of the iPhone, choose the video content you want to listen to and begin playback.
  3. Turn off the screen by clicking the power button on the top right of the iPhone. Audio and video playback will stop.
  4. Double-click the home button on the iPhone. The iPod controls will appear underneath the clock.
  5. Press the “Play” triangle. The background screen will change to the title screen of your video content, the audio will begin, but the video will not begin playing.
  6. Click the power button on the top right of your iPhone again. The audio will continue, but the screen will go dark.

This will work for music videos as well as video podcasts. I’m presuming that it will also work for TV shows and movies, but I don’t have any content like that on my iPhone so I can’t test it.

Unfortunately, once you go back into your iPhone (that is, move the unlock slider from left to right), the iPhone will immediately resume the video playback, and if you try to leave iPod mode to go do something else, the audio will cease again. (This stinks because I often need the calculator while working, and hate having to stop and start my podcasts all the time.) At least, however, this is a way to conserve some battery life when you really don’t need to see the video in your video podcast.

Sasha Sleeping

I think Sasha’s “Flippy, the Wonder Baby” phase is finally over.  For about three weeks, maybe longer, she felt compelled to flip to her tummy when put down on her back even the least bit awake.  Once there, she’d start to fuss, and then scream because: A) she didn’t want to be on her tummy and B) she couldn’t flip herself back over.  Once in the occassional while she’d finally manage to fall asleep on her tummy after fussing for a little while, but usually we’d have to flip her back after she worked herself into a tizzy.

Fortunately, I think she’s over all this.  She hasn’t tried to do the Flippy thing for several days now, and I think as a result we’re both getting a lot more sleep.

Baby Sasha, sound asleep.
Baby Sasha, sound asleep.