FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

Malibu Wine Safari

Written By: Scot Butwell - Mar• 26•17

stanley_kimberlylucas

Last year, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, D and I boarded a former World War II navy vessel (USS Iowa), walking around to burn off excess calories from eating too much food during the holidays.

This year, on a picturesque ranch in the rolling hills of Malibu, we hopped aboard a custom-built, open-air jeep with tiered seats to see and feed exotic animals like yaks, llamas, alpacas, zebras, bulls, and more.

Between the USS Iowa and Malibu Wine Safari, it was interesting walking aboard history on a retired war ship, but we loved seeing the exotic animals and being amid the peaceful serenity on the ranch much better.

We discovered the yaks, alpacas and llamas were the friendliest and hungriest. They jockeyed for position, stuck their long necks over a fence, and ate lettuce and carrots straight from our hand.

malibu-wine

The bulls and zebras, at least the day we visited, were not hungry. It was fun, but a bit nerve jostling, to be only two feet away from a large bull, even separated as D and I were by a white-picket fence.

The large bull, standing beside a smaller one who was likely his son or daughter, grunted when I offered him some lettuce. But, perhaps, this was a goodwill grunt or his way to say “thanks, but no thanks.”

The llamas had funny names like Dali Lama and Michelle O’Lama, and two Tibetan Yaks went by Yakkity Yak and Don’t Talk Back, and the most famous of all, Stanley the giraffe, was in the movie The Hangover III.

A few days after our visit, D and I were reading the story of Daniel and the lions den in the bible, and when I asked him a question, he suddenly started talking about the animals we’d seen from the safari.

“Have you ever seen Stanley on tv?” D asked. “The giraffe with the giant neck. He’s seven years old, but he’s pretty big.”

bull

“No, I haven’t seen him on tv. Did you like him?”

“He’s nice.”

D went on: “The bull snorted and made grunting noises. “I was like ‘oh, my gosh’….he was scary. I was trying not to be afraid, but I lost my grip.”

“I was a little scared myself.”

“Bulls are strong…I wish I was a bull. There was a zebra [actually two]. JC said to be careful because they might bite… You remember JC?”

“Yeah, he was our tour guide.”

“Mike was our driver. Yaks are sort of like alpacas. They spit.”

alpaca

“Remember when the alpaca in Evan Almighty spit on Congressmen Long.”

“Yeah, that was so funny.”

Sometimes, it can feel like prying information from a crime suspect when I ask D about his day at school. I often get nothing. So our conversation about the safari felt like lava spewing from a volcano.

I loved it!

JC told us about tv shows (The Bachelor and The Biggest Loser) that have shot episodes on the ranch, celebrity visitors (Kobe Bryant, Kim Kardashian), as well as the history of the ranch and winery.

tour guide

Twenty years ago, the patriarch of Malibu Family Wines, Ron Semler, 74, toured South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe with his extended family–wife Lisa, nine children, five grandchildren, and their spouses.

He had already purchased several exotic animals to educate his children on wildlife, and inspired by safaris his family went on in Africa, it dawned on him that a safari could pair well with wine tastings.

His oldest daughter was skeptical of his idea, so Semler tabled it. But in 2013, his son, Dakota, then a 20-year-old college student, decided to give his dad’s wine safari idea a go, and he is now the CEO

Malibu Family Wines offers wine safari tours seven days a week. The family wine safari is available only on weekdays (kids must be seven), and you must book the Giraffe tour to meet Stanley.

For two city guys, D and I enjoyed the winding tour through picturesque hillsides covered with rows of grapevines, unusual rock formations, gorgeous look-outs, and funky art installations.

malibu

One rock formation is the shape of a horse saddle. Hence, the name Saddlerock Ranch and Vineyard for Malibu Family Wines’ 1,000 acre property which includes 800 acres of grape vines.

Our tour ended in a grassy area surrounded by vintage trailers for a wine tasting (two wines + lemonade for kids), coupled with crackers and cheese, with a beautiful view of the Conejo Valley.

wine

Our group didn’t talk much to each other. One family was from Korea, and another from Massachusetts, but I think we were blown away by the peaceful serenity beauty of Saddlerock Ranch.

Afterwards, D and I drove up Mullholland Highway to Malibu Creek Park. We went on a short hike and ate lunch by a stream. It was a beautiful extension of our trip to Malibu Wines Safari.

MALIBU WINE SAFARI:

Family Safari- Available weekdays–$55 per person, includes two different wines for adults 21+ and lemonade for little ones, who must be at least 7 years old.

Explorer Safari-Offered 7 days a week–$65 per person, includes 6 different wines on scenic spots on the ranch and feeding and interacting with exotic animals.

Giraffe Lunch Safari-Available by appointment, exclusively on weekdays. $155 per person, includes 6 different wines and a catered lunch.  Feeding and interacting with exotic animals and Stanley the Giraffe.

hike

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Teamwork

Written By: Scot Butwell - Mar• 13•17

messy room

I was tasked with helping D to clean his room. I say that I believe in fostering his independence, but five minutes into the job, he asked if he could take a mid-afternoon bath.

I agreed, and even cleaned up his room for him, with this one caveat: he had to help me do the laundry. Call it teamwork.

 

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Pine Wood Derby

Written By: Scot Butwell - Mar• 13•17

p derby 2

I listened to an interview with a mother on a Radiolab podcast (“The Ghosts of Football“) who said her eight-year-old son’s favorite part of playing football was the pizza party and trophy at the end of the season.

Thirteen members of the boy’s family played in the NFL, and despite his ability to make other players “eat dirt” from making aggressive tackles, he decided he no longer wanted play football.

“That kind of stuff is messing up the history in my life,” he said after making one boy cry.

And I thought of D and the Pine Wood Derby, and if I were to ask him his favorite part, he might say eating French Fries afterwards at the Habit Grill. (In fact, I did ask him after writing this post, and that’s exactly what he said.)

bear den

I know my son. Seriously, though, we pulled it off, a mechanically challenged dad and his son designed a functional car, and like a few other dads I talked to on race day, we weren’t the only ones to do it the day or night before.

Despite using a fan to dry his car, the paint on D’s car was still drying (no kidding) when we got to the race, and when we arrived at the check-in table, we had twelve minutes for his car to pass inspection.

This was D’s first Pine Wood Derby (I scheduled D’s birthday party on the day of the Pine Wood Derby last year), and I must have not been listening to announcements during pack meetings stating that each car must weigh six ounces to meet race regulations.

The regulations were also written on paper instructions that came in the box with his block of wood, wheels, four nails, and a sheet of sticker numbers. Apparently, I missed the weight requirement again when reading the instructions.

p derby 1

Hence, I began soliciting pennies, nickels and dimes from parents to glue to D’s car, so it could meet the weight requirement and we passed the inspection guidelines with about thirty seconds to spare.

D used a glue gun to weld most–okay, half–of the thirteen coins to the top and bottom on his car the Saturn V, and while it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to the eye, I thought at least the coins might make his car go faster.

Ok, so.

We waited a month between the time a parent volunteer cut out his design from his wood block and getting started on his car (sanding it down and putting sealer paint coat on it the night before) and then adding a final coat on the morning of the race.

A confession. D drew his car design on paper, and I traced it onto the wood block, and if my memory serves me correct, I made a few slight alterations so it would be a more aerodynamic car.

But next year, I plan to take a more hands-off approach, discuss the design factors with him and let him do it all, and let the chips–literally and figuratively–fall where they may.

This year, admittedly, his car was more of a team effort, and that’s probably pretty normal. I was glad D took pride in his car, running up to me to tell me his car took first place in one heat.

pine derby 4

But the race was, how do I put this nicely, anti-climatic to watch. D’s car finished second in the seven other heats–and though I was relieved by the results–it got a little tedious watching the same outcome over and over.

At least, I thought, the wheels to D’s car didn’t come off or some other catastrophic result like I feared might happen. Or he didn’t finish in fourth place eight times in a row (which actually did happen to a few unfortunate kids).

D’s car clocked at a high of 181 mph and the difference between first, second, third and fourth was usually only fractions of a second, so the worst car was not that bad and the fastest not that great.

It probably didn’t seem that way to a typical 10-year-old after their car finished last over and over again. But I guess perspective comes with age to recognize the small difference fractions of a second can make.

 

 

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Beach Fun

Written By: Scot Butwell - Mar• 01•17

beach fun

I need to have one of these days again…to just sit and look at the ocean. Haven’t had one of those days in a long time.

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First Audition

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 18•17

audition

I don’t know if he’ll get a part or not. But when I learned the children’s choir was having auditions for acting parts in the upcoming the Children’s Easter Pageant, I knew I had to encourage D to audition.

He has been part of five performances, though only once in an acting role as Heracles in a 20-minute version of Odysseus at a summer drama camp, and I told him that as he got older, he had to “challenge himself.”

I explained to him that an acting part was a great opportunity to do this. D was hesitant at first, but as I mentioned he was becoming more mature, he agreed to audition with only a little wrangling on my part.

I emphasized that he was “maturing” based on his mom’s decision to let him watch the Little Rascals movie. He’s been asking to watch it for over two years and she said he could watch when he was more mature.

So when the choir director asked the kids what part they wanted to try out for, D raised his hand and walked up on stage with three other kids to do a read through of part of the script.

audition 2

Ok, so.

I saw glimpses of potential in his audition, but also several areas he needs to improve to land a part. Aside from motivating him to audition, one thing I forgot is to actually prepare him for what to do in the audition.

First, though, the good: One of his strengths is inflecting the tone of his voice to sound like a character (he likes to be Stitch from Lilo and Stitch), and he did this well during the audition. And the not so good: he got distracted and lost his place in the script. That’s when I had a gnawing feeling I should have prepared him better.

He also could have projected his voice a few notches louder, and while I’d like to it was nerves, this too was probably another case of something I could have coached him to do better.

I am an English teacher, but have taught drama classes, and so I know the importance of projecting your voice, having had plenty of students have trouble with not being heard on stage.

So I think D’s audition gave me a baseline, for what he can and can’t do on his own, and it gave him an experience he can draw upon for his next audition.

Still, I know for his next audition, I plan to have him practice following along with the script and projecting his voice with me at home, so he will make a better impression.

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This Certifies That

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 18•17

soap carving

The switch blade may have lost some of its appeal from previous generations. But D still enjoyed earning a badge for demonstrating his knowledge and skill in the use of a personal pocketknife.

His Whittling Chip certificate said, “By completing these safety requirements and by promising to abide by the Knives Are Not Toys guidelines and the Pocketknife Pledge, he has the earned the right to carry a pocketknife to designated Cub Scout functions.”

The latter part–earning the right to carry a pocketknife–would never have passed the Wife’s approval if it wasn’t followed by the phrase, “to designated Cub Scout functions.”

D’s den leader meticulously went over the pocket knife pledge and guidelines on how to correctly use a pocketknife. Then D and his fellow bears went to separate tables and practiced making cuts with the help of their dads.

To get his Whittling certificate, D had to complete two soap carvings on his own. He decided to carve out his initials, and it was clear from the start, I was more concerned about how his soap carving would turn out than he was.

To be honest, he got distracted playing with the soap chips, and most of the time, I guided his hand to make the cuts, and at one point, I had a flashback of his mom letting him cut the cake on his birthday.

The cake cutting was a metaphor. His mom had her hand was over his hand, and I remember thinking it symbolized how D was getting older, yet it is still difficult for her to let him do things independently.

Well, the same thing happened with the soap carving. No matter how I thought he could cut the cake himself, I didn’t let him do his soap carving on his own, and it wasn’t so much a fear of D cutting himself, as it was me wanting his carving to look nice.

I wish I had this attitude, “So what if his soap carving gets messed up? He can start over and do another one.” But instead I was more concerned with trying to make his soap carving look good than letting him do it himself.

So in writing this, I recognize I have to offer him some guidance, but also to step back and let him do things on his own. It’s a realization I’ve had countless times, and with the Pine Wood Derby coming up, it will be a test of my commitment to foster his independence.

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Mambo Dance

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 17•17

mambo dance

The mambo dance is an annual tradition of Pack 658…and the kids love it.

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Bird Experts

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 17•17

angry birds

I came home from visiting my mom in the hospital, and after I ate a five-minute dinner, D had to serve a time out for breaking a house rule.

Of course, between going to the bathroom and various stall tactics, it took him fifteen minutes before making it to the time out area.

So I took time to connect with the Wife before sprawling my six-foot-three inch frame on the kitchen floor and entering into the world of birds vs. pigs to play angry birds with D.

I know the names of all the angry birds: Terrance the Big Brother, Chuck the fastest, Bomb shaped like his name, Red, peace-loving Matilda, Hal the Boomerang Bird, Stella the Pink Bird, the blue birds, Bubbles the Expanding Bird, The Mighty Eagle, and probably a few lesser fowl.

And I know the names of most of their enemies the pigs: Leonard, the big bellied King Pig, Corporal Pig with the steel metal army helmet, Foreman Pig with the mustache, and Dopey and Roz the Minion Pigs.

bird expert

The Angry Birds Movie is D’s current favorite film, and we like to sing the song, “Friends,” by Blake Shelton; that is, until the Wife discovered the soundtrack had a few inappropriate songs and it got confiscated.

I’ve noticed the songs and movies D likes best often have a friendship theme–and the lyrics always make me think about our relationship. And I think the songs make him think the same thing.

Hey, hey you and me
Different as different can be
You like to rock, I like to roll
You take the high, I’ll take the low
Woah, woah-oh, woah-oh

Just some roughed up desperadoes
Hanging tough through thick and thin
Kicking up dust wherever we go

I can see that you and me are gonna be friends
To the end you and me are gonna be friends

So on the kitchen floor, we took turns assembling and knocking down towers, pulling back the slingshot with an angry bird inserted and sending it flying towards the pigs in towers.

Kaboom! The towers collapsed and we celebrated. Honestly, it was the most fun of my day, until I became a bull in a rodeo with D on back, snorting and trying to buck him off my back amid his raucous giggling.

D will turn nine tomorrow, and I hope he doesn’t grow up too fast because I will miss times like these being silly. It may be a passing fad, but I am thankful for the angry birds for giving me a way to connect and have fun with D.

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Star Eco Station

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 15•17

blue bird

This was a lot different than the Pet Store.

Instead of seeing the usual dogs, cats, fish, turtles, crickets, hamsters and guinea pigs, we saw an alligator, two foxes, a 100-pound boa constrictor, and an assortment of reptiles and birds rescued by the U.S. Fish and Game Department from human traffickers.

This was Star Eco Station, an environmental science museum and rescue station for exotic animals that is a haven of last resort for over 200 different types of illegally trafficked animals from around the world.

My favorite part was when D said, Hey Boss, and beckoned to me with his hand while we were in the middle of our tour. D had gone one room ahead and I was torn between staying with the tour or responding to his overture.

It felt like the Bubble Room scene from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Grandpa Joe and Charlie fall behind the group and drink the “Fizzy Lifting” soda and float up toward a giant steel fan.

I was tempted to check out what D had discovered, but good citizen that I am, I stayed put and listened to our tour guide before seeing what D had found so exciting: a frisky grey and and brown fox running around in its cage.

eco 2

I knew D and I were think the same thing: Nick Wilde, the fox character from Pixar’s Zootopia, one of D’s favorite movies. Heck, the face of the fox even resembled Nick Wilde.

There was another cage with a black fox who had an extremely frightened countenance. Both had bushy tails and were housed behind a chain link fence with a glass casing over it.

Every one of the animals had a back story, but I was so excited at seeing the foxes that I missed their names (Zeus and Sunny, D told me later) and how they ended up at the rescue station. However, here are a few of the stories from the other animals I did hear:

Someone in Texas shipped ten baby alligators in a Fed Ex box to Los Angeles by plane.

eco 3

The 100-pound boa constrictor lived in 20 pounds of his own feces because the owner was too scared of his pet snake to clean it.

An blue parrot plucked out all of its chest feathers due to stress from working on a Hollywood movie.

A two-foot turtle was found in a trash can at the airport.

Star Eco Station exists because smuggling exotic animals into the US (via LAX) is a lucrative business on a scale with illegal drug trafficking and thrives from the high demand for exotic pets and accessories from their body parts.

So did D and I became more aware of the illegal trafficking of exotic animals from out visit? I’d like to say, YES! But, sadly, I was too busy taking pictures to think about the cruelty perpetuated by humans against exotic animals.

turtle

I thought our tour guide could have shared more of the ways animals are smuggled into the US (crammed in suitcases, stuffed in cardboard tubes, taped to human bodies, stashed in Fed Ex boxes) and talked more explicitly about the cruelty towards exotic animals.

I am sure D could have stomached the details, and it would have made him angry at the plight of exotic animals, and animals in general.

Later, I researched the topic and discovered illegally trafficking animals is a multi-billion dollar industry. Many of those found by custom officials arrive dead on arrival or are so traumatized or injured that officials have no choice but to put them down.

The animals who survive the grueling transport conditions often die from inadequate care or are abandoned by their owners. Many get placed at the gates of zoos–who are unable by law to take donated animals–while others end up skinned for accessories.

A raid by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) officials on a Texas warehouse discovered hundreds of dead animals, and more than 6,000 died afterwards who were too ill to be saved. 27,000 animals were seized due to inadequate care and living conditions.

I felt some of these facts could have been shared by our tour guide or, perhaps, my poor listening was at fault. But I left thinking that I would like to go back to the eco station, and to listen better to hear the stories of the animals.

eco 5

 

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Biker Pig

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 06•17

biker pig

This is a Google image of the biker pig motorcycle D and I assembled on his birthday because he smashed ours not long after we completed it.

That’s fine. Really. Okay, he could have let me take a picture of our collaborative efforts before shattering it to pieces.

His mom made a chocolate cake with white frosting and, two days later, a strawberry cake for my birthday. Both were delicious, and neither lasted long, since we all have a sweet tooth.

As for our collaboration, D ripping open the plastic bags, the tiny pieces nearly got mixed together, and a few pieces fell to the floor, and I got anxious, knowing the added difficulty we’d face with lost or missing pieces.

The truth is, D was more excited more to get to the angry bird figurines in the bags than construct the motorcycle, and unlike me, he wasn’t concerned at all about the difficulty of the task ahead.

“Hey, you knocked some pieces on the floor,” D told me a few times after he bumped more Legos on the floor.

It was one of those moments where I could feel myself starting to lose it, but I managed to hold it together. I realized it was only Legos, so we pressed forward on assembling the bike.

We followed the instructions step by step, snapping small pieces together and mostly working together, and 20 minutes later, we had finished and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It was a Friday night, and following pictorial directions and handling teeny weeny Lego pieces was difficult after a long week of work, especially for someone like myself with limited mechanical skills.

Although I did probably 70 percent of the work, it was still a collaborative effort and I had fun working together with D, even if he shattered our biker pig motorcycle soon after we assembled it.

Afterwards, D and I joined his mom in the living room, and we all took an electronic break. The Wife and I fell asleep, and an hour later, D was still on his I-Pad, celebrating each tower knocked down by an angry bird.

 

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