Every year for the past 26 years, my family has attended a family retreat in Montecito, California. For those of you who have not heard of it, Montecito is a residential community near Santa Barbara that is known for its famous part-time residents – Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe, Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Barrymore and a few investment fund managers who can afford the ridiculous real estate prices. Montecito, however, is also the home of La Casa de Maria retreat center, a 28-acre oasis in the midst of celebrity and financial power. La Casa de Maria is the former novitiate for an order of nuns, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who acquired the property in the 1940’s and converted a portion to a retreat center in the late 1960’s. Read the complete story below:

Family retreat for me has always been the way to connect with a larger community of families who understand the challenges of raising children in today’s world. Over the past 26 years, I’ve grown to love this community as much as my blood family, and when faced with triumph or tragedy, this is the community that gives me support and unconditional love.

As our children have gotten older, their ability to attend the entire five days has been limited. For our two oldest, it’s been years since they’ve been able to attend. For our two youngest, however, the experience of family retreat has been a constant part of their summer for their entire lives.

As the four of us drove up the entry road earlier today, I started to see the retreat center in a different way. Suddenly the landscape and buildings took me back to the Camino. As I sat in the chapel for the opening service, I imagined the pilgrim mass in Roncevalles in which the priest gave a blessing to all those on their journey to Santiago. After the service, I had another flashback as the group of over one hundred gathered for dinner – the dinner we shared at the Refuge d’Orisson with pilgrims from South Africa, Brazil, Korea and many other countries.

La Casa de Maria has been my pilgrimage for the past 26 years. it’s a pilgrimage that requires me to journey for a full year before welcoming me back to the same place. In some years, it seems like I’m a lot different. In other years, it’s my fellow pilgrims who have changed. This year, we lost one of our community members due to a brain aneurysm. Her husband spoke of her presence in our midst and shared some stories about her love for us and for La Casa de Maria. It reminded me of the journey we all share, whether it’s across Spain in 5 or six weeks or across a 26-year span of our lives. We are all one family, heading in the same direction.


The photo on the left is the small chapel in Roncevalles, the one on the right is La Casa de Maria in Montecito, CA.


White Picket Fences

The other day I wrote about my teenage son whistling while he was getting ready for the day. Since then I had another experience with one of my sons. Our second son is an artist living in NYC and he currently has a show at a gallery in Brooklyn. The show is going very well – he’s already sold several paintings and received favorable reviews from critics.

One of the reviews featured an in-depth interview which was quite revealing. Like a lot of other parents I know, I feel like I’m just getting to know our son as he turns 26 in a few weeks. He has always been the type that flies under the radar – never gets into trouble but you also are never sure where he is or what he’s doing. With him living in NYC for the past four years, I’ve gotten used to this feeling of detachment.

Over the past few months, he’s struggled with some serious challenges but he’s also been more open to me and let me into his hipster world now and then. The interviewer asked him a lot of questions about his art and one of them was about the first thing he remembers building. To my surprise, he talked about building a white picket fence with his Dad when he was 12.

His response warmed my heart more than I ever imagined possible, You see, I’ve always tried to work on projects with my kids the way that my Dad worked with me. Come to think of it, my Dad would assign me projects and then inspect them at regular intervals to be sure I was making good progress and doing everything just right. My story, however, is that we did it together, and I’m sticking to it.

Years from now my son may remember that I assigned him projects as well, but for now he told the world that we did it together and that makes me the proudest father on earth.

Here’s Bennet (on the right) with his older brother Adam.


The Backpack Club – June 23, 2013

Yesterday was my second day of training for the Camino in August. Our goal was to complete 10+ miles around Upper Newport Bay near our house. My wife Kathryn and I left the house around 9 am and started walking under typical June overcast skies. Here’s a photo of me at the start.


A few blocks into our walk, we said hello to a man walking his dog and he asked if we were in training for something. When we answered yes, he immediately guessed “that Camino thing.” His name was Jack and he said his wife Joy was talking about it and encouraging him to go. He suggested that we poke our heads into their house a few doors down and introduce ourselves. Joy was very surprised to see us but was excited to hear about our trip. She said she was planning to walk the Camino someday whether Jack went along or not.

A few blocks later we were stopped once again by a jogger named Mike who asked about our gear. He had heard about the Camino but he was talking to his family earlier that day about their trip hiking in the Pyrenees next summer. They’re not planning to hike the Camino, but it sounds like a great trip nonetheless.

So now we’ve been on our hike less than 30 minutes and we’ve already spent half the time talking to interested people who are excited to hear about our adventures. Wearing backpacks must send out a secret message of fraternity. I know that works on the Camino but I didn’t know it worked in Orange County, California.

Thinking back to my first training hike, I recall meeting another couple who were wearing backpacks. Of course I had to ask them what they were training for. Turns out they were heading up to Mt. Whitney in July. For those who are not familiar with it, Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the continental US, roughly 14,500 feet tall (4,420 meters). It’s a bucket list adventure and worth every minute suffering in the thin air.

Back to sea level, which you’ll notice in the pictures below, Kathryn and I cruised around the upper bay in about 3-1/2 hours and we didn’t see any more people wearing backpacks.

In the next blog, I’ll share my effort to learn “real” Spanish.

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Our son finished his second year of high school last week. He works hard but school isn’t his favorite thing to do. He would much rather go the beach with his friends.

On the day after final exams ended, he slept later than usual and offered to drive me to work so he could use my car to go surfing. While I was having some breakfast, I heard him whistling in the back of the house. As I was listening to the random notes, I realized the stillness in the house that allowed his teenage song to fill the void. It was a moment to recognize and remember.

Whistling is what you do when you haven’t a care in the world. Have you heard much whistling lately? Neither have I, but I think I’ll listen more carefully and add some music of my own.

Here’s my son Collin with his grandfather Frank. I think Frank whistles too.