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 animal talk: 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 was a unexpected downpour of rain during a drought.

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, and their extended families.

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 of Saddlerock Ranch to want to talk.

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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Teaching Responsibilty

Written By: Scot Butwell - Mar• 13•17

messy roomThree hours later, and after dressing up as Stymie from the Little Rascals and making a video to send to his cousins (along with a second one on Jumaji the spider), D finished cleaning his room. I taught D responsibility (per L’s request) by not helping him.

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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 following the season.

The focus of the story was that 13 members of the family played in the NFL, and despite her son’s ability to make opponents “eat dirt,” he decided he no longer wanted play football.

“That kind of stuff is messing up the history in my life,” the boy said after he hit one boy so hard that he cried.

Listening to the podcast, I thought of D and the Pine Wood Derby, and if I were to ask him his favorite part, he would likely say it was eating French Fries afterwards at the Habit Grill.

(In fact, I asked 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 we did most of it the night before and morning of the race.

We painted his car and used a fan to dry it in the morning, and the paint was still wet when we arrived at the check-in table, where his car failed to meet the weight requirement.

This was D’s first Pine Wood Derby (D’s birthday party was the same day the Pine Wood Derby last year), and I must have missed the announcement in pack meetings that cars must weigh six ounces to meet race regulations.

p derby 1

Fortunately, there was a table with glue guns next to the weigh-in station, and other scouts were glueing coins to the top and bottom of their cars. We had ten minutes to pass inspection.

So we ran to the car for coins, and I solicited a few extra nickels and dimes from moms, so D’s car could pass the weight requirements–and we finished with thirty-eight seconds to spare.

D welded thirteen coins to his car the Saturn V–maybe I glued a few myself–and while his car didn’t look as visually appealing, I thought the coins might at least make his car go faster.

A confession: D drew his car design on paper, and I traced it onto the wood block, although I made a few slight alterations to his design, in the hope 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 wherever they may.

This year, his car was more of a team effort, and I’m sure 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

The race itself was anti-climatic to watch. D’s car finished second in the seven other heats. Most were against the same cars–but I was relieved we avoided any type of catastrophe.

The wheels of his car didn’t come off  like I feared might happen (which a happened to a scout last year).Or his car didn’t finish last eight times  in a row (which happened to a few kids).

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

I’m not sure what D took away from the whole experience, but I felt glad we had accomplished a task together, and D can use what we learned to him build a car more on his own next year.

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Chilling out

Written By: Scot Butwell - Mar• 01•17

beach fun

I need to have one of these days again…to sit and look at the ocean.

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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 scarfing down a five-minute dinner, I was looking forward to spending time with D.

However, he had to first serve a time out for breaking a house rule, and it took him fifteen minutes between stalling and going to the bathroom, before making it to the time out area.

So I sat on the sofa and talked with L a while before lying down on the kitchen floor and entering the ornithological world of angry birds and pigs with D—his new favorite animated characters.

Big Brother Terrance, speedy Chuck, Bomb, Red, Matilda, Hal the Boomerang Bird, the blue birds, Mighty Eagle, and I am probably leaving out a few lesser fowl.

And of course their arch enemies the pigs: Leonard the King Pig, Corporal Pig with the steel army helmet, Foreman Pig with the mustache, and Dopey and Roz the Minion Pigs.

bird expert

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, we celebrated, and it was the most fun of my day, until I became a rodeo bull in with D on back, snorting and trying to buck him off while D wildly giggled.

D will turn nine tomorrow, and I hope he doesn’t grow up too fast. I will miss times like these being silly, and I am thankful for these 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 different than the Pet Store.

Instead of seeing 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.

And instead of D waving his hands in front of birds to make them fly around crazy at the Pet Store, I hoped our visit to Star Eco Station, a rescue station for over 200 exotic animals, would generate compassion in him for the plight of illegally trafficked animals

Hey Boss,” D said, beckoning me to follow him in the middle of our tour. He had wandered one room ahead, and I was torn between staying with the tour or responding to his overture.

It was the Bubble Room scene from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Grandpa Joe and Charlie drink a “Fizzy Lifting” soda and float up toward a giant steel fan before burping their way back down.

I had a choice to make of staying with the tour and listening to our guide or checking out what D had discovered that was so exciting: a frisky grey and brown fox running around in its cage.

eco 2

I knew what D was probably thinking about Nick Wilde, the fox character from  Zootopia, one of his favorite movies. A black fox with a frightened countenance was in another cage.

We found out every animal had a back story. I was missed the names of the foxes (Zeus and Sunny, D told me later), and how they endec up at the rescue station. However, these are a few of the animal stories 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 own pet snake to wash or clean it.

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

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

***

We learned Star Echo Station exists because smuggling exotic animals into the US is a multi-billion dollar business, and animals snuck into the US are crammed in suitcases, stuffed in cardboard tubes, taped to human bodies, and stashed in Fed Ex boxes.

turtle

Our tour guide informed us many of the exotic animals found by custom officials arrive dead on arrival or are so traumatized or injured that officials have no choice but to put them down.

Those who survive the transport conditions often die from inadequate care or are abandoned on rural roads by their owners. Many others get placed at the gates of zoos–who are unable by law to take donated animals–or have difficulty surviving away from their natural habitats.

I wish I could say that D or I became more compassionate towards animals from our visit, but to be totally honest, I was more focused on taking pictures than letting the stories of animals’ abuse sink in to my consciousness.

And I not sure just how much of the information D managed to take in—or how the animals’ experienced could be classified as abuse—and is if he has a reference point for what abuse is.

However, as I was writing about our visit to Star Echo Station—especially the individual stories of the animals—I felt a desire to go back and listen better to their storied to develop compassion for animals in general.

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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