Saturday, December 26, 2015


Here is our 2015 Christmas Card in Blog form (with a few more pictures of course :-)

Dear Friends and Family,

Are we really on the eve of 2016?  How can that possibly be?  We’re not quite sure where the last 15 years went, let alone just 2015, which flew by so fast I don’t think we even saw it.  Good thing Christmas comes each year, with its annual Christmas letter review, or we could end up tottering into the nursing home thinking we hadn’t done anything with our lives.  (Probably will end up doing that anyway, so here goes nothing . . .)

We certainly started the past year in proper fashion, at Snowbird on New Year’s Day (and many days thereafter).  If you have never been to the top of Hidden Peak on a sunny day, with fresh snow below and blue skies above, you have missed one of the truly great things in all the world.

Skiing with my family in such a beautiful place, where I spent so much of my youth, is like icing on the cake of life. We are so lucky to live where we do.

Here are some of our other favorite things from this past year:

Camping at the Grand Canyon for Spring Break.

Nights were cooooold! But the days were perfect, and sunsets from the south rim are simply magical.

We spent them with people from places like Palestine, India and China, and some crazy kids who had driven 24 hours straight from Chicago just to see it.  No matter your origin, the reaction is the same – as the sun sinks, voices drop, and stillness covers the vast expanse like a blanket, while four-billion-year-old light bathes two-billion-year-old rock in a golden goodnight. The reverence it commands and the perspective it provides are priceless gifts.

Oahu and The Big Island. We love the islands.  I swear they have a stress barrier that lets none in. That aloha spirit is palpable and feels like what life always ought to be.  What a treat to enjoy it with the kids and Grandma and Grandpa Bailey.

Alden’s dreams came true on a tour of the battleship Missouri, as he pulled the trigger for the big 16 inch guns (luckily the safety was on).

Keegan swam fearlessly in the open ocean with dolphins, a highlight of his trip.

Sunsets on sunset beach, a beautiful Kona rental home, snorkeling in Sharks Cove and Kealakekua Bay Marine Sanctuary, Kate’s first helicopter ride, glowing lava at night, a crater hike in Hawaii’s Volcano National Park, and watching Alden and Keegan thrill every Chinese tourist in sight with their Mandarin, were some highlights of this great trip.

Goblin Valley and Lake Powell with the Moons and Stars.

Camping in one of America’s best dark-night places, amongst hoodoo goblins, during the height of the Perseid meteor shower; towering, thousand-foot, burnt-orange sandstone cliffs and blue-green water; and a gathering of a really great family on a houseboat in the middle of it all.

Keegan literally flew off some of those (much shorter) cliffs into that water; Kate and Alden waterskied for the first time; Kathleen still slalomed away; and leisure book reading, amidst stunning sunsets and glass-like water. Who could ask for more?

Take a close look at the picture of Alden in his first moment on waterskis.  It is joy pure and personified--my favorite memory of the year.  If you have never been to southern Utah, you need to go, and make these places a part of the trip.

Utah Shakespeare. This little festival in Cedar City is a gem, and this was our fourth straight year of attendance.  King Lear; Henry IV, part 2; Taming of the Shrew; Two Gentlemen of Verona; and a side treat of Bram Stoker’s Dracula – what’s not to like?  The boys even enjoyed all the plays.  We’re going again next year.

Other Highlights.  We also visited Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in and around Kanab (thanks for the tour Jordan Bailey!), Cedar Breaks National Monument and Brian Head Resort (where Kathleen and I honeymooned 26 years ago).

In August, we had a great weekend in Los Angeles with all seven of Kathleen’s siblings, which of course meant fantastic food, and concluded with opera at the Hollywood Bowl.  There is just no way not to love that.  

Not all our highlights involve travel – we love our home, and enjoyed our re-landscaped yard this year, complete with six new fruit trees and a great deck (thanks Brent!).  We gardened, and enjoyed Kathleen’s amazing talent in cooking all that “locally grown” produce.  We received visits from some wonderful old friends, hiked in our beloved Wasatch Mountains, and spent many evenings biking the Legacy Trail near the Great Salt Lake, all of which made me quite happy.

Kate, 15, learned to drive, and has only run over her father one time.  I think it was on accident. She also started piano lessons again, this time because she wants to; spends an incomprehensible amount of time listening to music, and is a sophomore in high school, much to her father’s dismay. Guess I have to finally admit she is a teenager.  She works very hard in school, and is buried by homework almost every night.  She is a fantastic girl.

Alden, 11, has really developed a love of reading this year.  He is a boy born with an unbelievable ability to focus on what he loves, and so has proceeded to read about a million books, much to Keegan’s chagrin and frustration (its hard to lose your best play buddy to a book).  He sent a video greeting to a Chinese pen pal this year, and his Mandarin is good enough to be frustrated with Google translate on a regular basis.  Lego continues to be his greatest joy in life.

Keegan, 9, remains our most tender-hearted and social child.  He loves his friends, and play dates with them are always highlights for him.  He also loves singing and all things water -- swimming, diving, jumping, and particularly the rec center water-obstacle course known as the “wibbit.”  He fiercely defends his cat, Grace, against all of dad’s efforts to get a dog. His mom is his biggest supporter in all things, and I hope one day he realizes how much she does for not only him but all of us. We are both proud of how hard he tries in school, which is not his favorite thing these days.

All of this was not enough for Kathleen, who decided to enter the rough and tumble world of politics, making a run for the Utah State Treasurer’s office on an interim election. She didn’t win, but made a great showing, garnering a nice follow up call from the governor and much encouragement from many state decision-makers.  No “Kathleen for President” in the works just yet, but given the current field, we probably should launch that baby before things get worse.

I continue to be unbelievably blessed by a great job, great parents, great brothers and sister, great in-laws, great kids, and a truly great woman, without whom I would be utterly and hopelessly lost.  And of course, great friends, for whom I am very grateful.  That’s a lot of great, but it pretty much sums things up for me.  I know when I have a good thing going.

Wishing you all the very best this Christmas. Please don’t be strangers in the New Year! With much love,

Brett, Kathleen, Kate, Alden and Keegan

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Grand Spring Break, Pt. II

From the beauties of Lake Powell and the towering cliffs of the nearby oxbow bend, the mighty Colorado wanders buried through a plateau along the toe of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, unseen unless you stumbled across it, as you can at Lee's Ferry in the picture below.

It is near here that boats put in for the ride of a lifetime, through the depths of nature's greatest canyon. This is the closest that river will come to the plateau's edge for hundreds of miles to the west.

At Desert View overlook the Canyon first broadens and deepens into the wonder it is.  At sunrise, the view is so inspiring that early visitors built the Watch Tower (below), a Mary Colter designed edifice, to take more of it in.

After stopping here briefly in the late afternoon, we made a bee-line to Mather Campground, in the heart of the South Rim, so that we would not have to set up camp in the dark.  It would become our home for the next few days, filled with pleasant daytime temperatures but very cold nights and mornings, which made for perfect campfires and their attendant joys -- long hours sitting and warming, talking and staring into the flames, and most importantly, an inordinate amount of smores.  

In fact, our first morning there Alden, who dubbed himself the "Pun Dragon Master" of the camp, woke up and proclaimed "its going to be a beautiful Smorening!" and promptly cooked one over the fire I had built.  It is safe to say that before we were done, we spent more on firewood and marshmallows than we had on the campsite itself.  Such are the joys of Mather Campground.

One other benefit of the Campground is its proximity to Mather Point and the Mather Visitor Center, where shuttle buses leave on ten minute intervals to all points west along the rim, where cars are now banned. Photographer that I am, at first I was very disappointed to learn that fact, but on our first day out to Mohave Point via the blue and red lines, we realized what a blessing it was. 

For one, it forced us to actually hike the rim trail from there to Bright Angel Lodge,  a little over three miles along a fairly level trail, with scenes like these:

The black rock you seen lining the river waaay down there is apparently 1.3 billion years old.  Back when it was last on the surface, the only living, multi-cellular organism was a red algae.

Now it has us and an ever-flowing river to contend with, but it seems to be holding its own, as anyone who has ever floated the rapids of the Canyon can tell you.

Keegan enjoyed the whole hike, and proved a ready model for my constantly snapping camera.

There is no way to do justice in a picture to the scale here, but there are people on top of the cliff to the left, which maybe helps a little.

It was also along this walk that we got our first (on this trip) glimpse of Bright Angel trail, which descends into the Canyon. It looks like this:

And this:

And that's not even the half of it.  At my ripe old age, it seems hard to believe that Kathleen and I hiked up that from the Canyon bottom once, but it felt good to remember we had accomplished something so impressive once (at least to us).

Here are a few pictures of the trail we hiked down to the bottom on that prior trip, known as the South Kaibab.  Can you see where it traverses down in the picture below? Look closely.

The next day I took a picture from a different perspective. You can see the trail on the right upper canyon wall below.  It is easily one of the most picturesque trails on the planet . . .

but as it descends, it is also crazy and hard on the knees.  I have been down that switchback and it is not one for those of weak quads.

At the bottom lies Phantom Ranch (just to the right of center in the photo below) where we overnighted next to the mighty river, which is so much wider and deeper than any of these photos show.

It is fair to wonder why we would take an impulsive eight year old (see my last post), as well as our other children, to the Grand Canyon, where just this past week a presumably life-loving and intelligent twenty-something fell four hundred feet to his death.  It is a dangerous place for both the curious and the incautious.

Without standing along its edges as the light shifts and fades at sunset, it is impossible to understand the pull of this place, and how powerfully it draws you to the edge of its forever precipices.  No picture can capture its ever-changing beauty, or give view to the epic scale that confronts even the most casual visitor.  As the sun sets, people from all over the world gather, speaking with hushed voices in reverence for the magic that is happening all around them. 

The picture above was taken from a perhaps-not-so-advisable location, atop a jutting outcrop of rock with hundreds of feet of drops all around.  More than a few declined scrambling out to the edge. But I will never forget that moment. 

I stood there with only a few others around, watching the light fade slowly as the sun went down.  It was peace and majesty and beauty and timelessness all wrapped into an hour of amazement and joy.  One young man that did brave the outcrop had driven from Chicago on a whim, and told me he was experiencing the biggest natural high of his life.  Two young men from Palestine dangled off the edge behind me, snapping selfies with the biggest grins in the face of near death that one can imagine.

For me, it feels life-changing every time I visit. Perhaps that is because time is a towering, palpable presence here, alive like nowhere else on the entire planet, a voice too majestic to really understand, tugging at your mind and your heart with the felt-rather-than-heard messages of eons and ages. It humbles you and assures you, speaking of a permanence and order that is impossible to fully understand in our short lifetimes, but real and powerful and long, epic in scale and gravitas.

To introduce your children to that feeling, that sense of time, seems important, risks notwithstanding.

Besides, it is simply beautiful, one of those special places which teaches that God is a giver of gifts-- color and light and patient beauty divine.

 And all of us can use that.