Monday, June 27, 2011

Willow Lake

Saturday we went hiking again. And we had a terrific time.

It never ceases to amaze me how we can live only 20 minutes from some of the most amazing scenery and hiking in the world, and on a Saturday morning run into only 2 other hikers on the trail.

Our destination was Willow Lake, up Big Cottonwood Canyon. The weather was perfect, the aspen were quaking in the breeze and the wild flowers were just coming into bloom. Oh, and here and there islands of snow still glistened in the sun - much to the boys' delight!

The boys scurried up the 800-foot (344-meter) incline (to about 8,500 feet /2,590 meters) like a couple of mountain goats! I tell ya, those boys are Arcadians!

Best of all, not a single tree leech to be seen!

Tank tops and snow fields

Niko observing Willow Lake

Gus flying down the mountain

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day Present

Sunday was Father's Day - a day carved out of the year to honor dear, old dad. Not surprisingly, Fathers' Day only become a "recognized" observation decades after moms got their due. But hey, we dads are used to playing second fiddle. (Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day; Richard Nixon designated Father's Day.)

Just to give you an idea of the gender inequity: before the advent of cell phones and free long distance, Mother's Day saw the most long-distance calls of any day all year; but the most collect calls during the year were placed on Father's Day. Even when trying to honor dad, we stiffed him with the bill!

Well in spite of its history, I've always had really great Father's Days. And this year's was no exception.

Along with trekking poles and bocce balls (no, we don't have a court), Gus gave me a very special gift: he debuted as an altar boy at church.

It was something he's been wanting to do for some time. Although they usually don't take boys until they're in the 4th grade, Gus' height and a summer time need for acolytes (as the altar boys are called in the Orthodox Church)combined to make for perfect Father's Day timing!

Watching him help at the altar, grinning from ear-to-ear at me every time he caught my eye, made it a Father's Day I don't think I'll ever forget!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bumming with Dad

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do on Saturdays was to go "bumming" with my dad. We'd watch cartoons and the weird Krofft Brother shows like Land of the Lost and HR Puffenstuff then we'd head out "bumming" just him and me.

A lot of times, we'd work breakfast into our outing - it's hard to believe when you consider what on organic, try-to-buy-local, healthy food snob I've become, but my favorite breakfast joint to go with Dad was the grill at the Junction Bowling Alley.

Sometimes Dad and I would go looking for some car part or for something he needed for work. These shops were so cool. Dad knows everyone and their brother, so most of the time we got to go behind the counters and into the shops themselves. I always felt so grown up. The guys working in those shops swore like sailors - right in front of me - and there were girlie calendars on the walls. Plus, I was with my dad, so I was cool by association.

When I became a father, I knew I wanted to continue that tradition. I even remember the very first time I took Gus bumming. It was the day that our dog Skeelo bit him and Kelly and I had to take him - Gus not the dog - to the emergency room. We had been talking about the two of us going bumming so much that week, that he begged me to still go.

Our first stop was the Peruvian barber shop on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica - I think there's still a photo of him (complete with a hospital bandage on his face) up on their wall of "first hair cuts" - and then to the Guitar Center in Hollywood to buy him a bongo.

In my memory, Dad and I went bumming almost every Saturday. In reality, I bet it was, at most, only a couple of times of month. But I guess the frequency didn't matter as much as just spending that special one-on-one time together hanging out. It was quality time well before any child psychologist decided dad/kid time was a good idea.

I took the boys bumming last week after our "tree leeches" hike. We had just enough time to get in a round of putt-putt golf. And we had a blast. As we drove home, I
decided that I want to take the boys bumming at least once a month - more often if we can pull it off.

Who knows, maybe when they become dads themselves, they'll want to continue the tradition with their kids.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads and papas out there...

The boys and I bumming at the putt-putt golf course.

Gus takes a swing

Niko manages the "water hazard"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's In a Name?

Kelly and I love to hike. I think that's pretty well known. And we want the boys to experience the great outdoors with us. So we've decided to try to go hiking every weekend this summer.

Last weekend was our debut hike. We started off easy, exploring the quarry at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

At first, everything was going great. The weather was gorgeous, the boys were having a good time, all signs were pointing toward a perfect maiden voyage. And that's when we ran into them...

We found ourselves in a forested area near the banks of Little Cottonwood Creek. Kelly was leading the way when, suddenly, he let out a shriek and started batting his hands above his head.

"Ugh! They're all over me!" Kelly declared.

The boys froze! What was all over him?

Almost in unison, Gus and Niko jumped, their arms waving frantically in the air around their bodies.

What was it? What could it be? Mosquitoes? Spiders? Horse flies?

"Tree leeches!" Kelly screamed. "There are tree leeches all over me!"

Tree leeches? I thought. What the BLEEP are tree leeches?

Kelly fought his way toward the shore of the creek, his hands flailing above his head like some sort of Spanish dancer on crack.

Gus trotted in place, seemingly having lost complete control of his upper body, all the while screeching, "Get them off of me, get them off of me!"

Niko, although mere feet from Kelly and the safety of the tree-free shore, chose instead to stand frozen, between desperate sobs he mumbled, "They're all over me."

For my part, I kept quizzing, "Tree leeches? Tree leeches?"

And then I too was attacked, when I stumbled into a swarm of these amazing water-free blood suckers. Only when they fell on to me, they ended up being caterpillars.

Throughout the forest silvery strings of silk hung from the leaves. At the bottom of each string a tiny caterpillar desperately trying to inch its way up to the top in order to form a cocoon.

"THEY'RE CATERPILLARS!" I yelled in hopes my voice would be heard over the sounds of various shrieks. "THEY'RE JUST CATERPILLARS!" I repeated.

I'm not sure if it actually was my calm, reassuring bellowing or the fact that all three of my guys had made it to the safety of the shoreline, but the terror stopped.

When I joined them, calmly having navigated my way past as many of the sticky strings as possible, I had a handful of the little guys on my shoulders, arms, and hat.

Suddenly, when they weren't dropping on the boys like some sort of ace special forces paratroopers, the little bugs were intriguing. The boys loved watching them inch around on my hand.

By the time we started back, the boys' fear of "tree leeches" seemed to diminish. So much so that when we stopped to pick up something for lunch and they discovered a stowaway in the car on Kelly's seat, they both demanded that not only was it not to be harmed, but it was to be relocated to a bush in our backyard. All because it went from being a tree leech to a caterpillar!

Read more about our adventure with the tree leeches in the upcoming edition of QSaltLake!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer Time

Summer time in Utah - especially early in the season - can be really spectacular. The days are warm but not too hot, everything is green, and baby animals can be seen just about everywhere.

I have great memories of when I was a kid and playing outside under a seemingly never-setting sun, the cool grass under my feet, and the sound of laughter floating through the air.

We moved to Utah so our kids could have those kinds of memories as well. And I'm happy to say they are.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

School House Rock

Maybe it's 13 years of grammar and high school, 4 of college and 2 of grad school, but for me the year still starts in September and ends in May. The end of the year just happened for me.

Although I've always been a huge proponent of public schools, I feel incredibly lucky that this year the boys attended Saint Sophia Hellenic Orthodox School - it's the parochial school housed at Prophet Elias, where we go to church.

The progress both boys made in 180 days is astounding.

Sure, I can tell you how in those 9 months Gus advanced two full reading levels, mastered basic math concepts, and gained a rudimentary understanding of history, science and geography. I can attest how Niko learned to write his name, recognize all his colors, and gained a basic idea of mathematics and language arts. I can even tell you how they've both tackled the basics of Greek language, and have a much better understanding of their Orthodox Christian faith.

But most of those milestones could be achieved at any number of schools. What the boys really gained from their year at Saint Sophia can't be tested; it can't be scored. The boys strengthened their sense of belonging and self worth. They learned what it means to be accepted and embraced...and to accept and embrace. They gained self confidence.

And in my humble opinion, that's an education everyone should receive.

Gus as Cobweb in Saint Sophia's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Niko as a Pixie in the play