Pray for the peace.

I took this photo at the Garden Tomb in 2008.

(I took this photo at the Garden Tomb in 2008.)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Pray for the peace of her hills topped with mosques and churches. Pray for her the peace of her valleys, lined with ancient tombs.

Pray for the peace of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, its stones worn smooth by the tears and kisses and prayers of Christians of every country, creed, and color. Pray for the peace of the devout of East Jerusalem, called to prayer each morning long before sunrise by the cry that was surely sounded at creation’s dawn. Pray for the fathers, bearded and dressed in black, hurrying their little boys to yeshiva school in the early morning blue of the Jewish Quarter; pray for the toddling boys with side curls and kippahs on their tiny heads.

Pray for the old toothless women sitting in the limestone streets of the Muslim Quarter selling vine leaves. Pray for the plucky British hosts of the Garden Tomb. Pray for the Arab shopkeepers selling blue and white Armenian pottery, and the Armenian shopkeepers selling Temple Mount photos and souvenirs. Pray for the mothers lying in beds in the Palestine Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, and their new babies with dark eyelashes softer than butterflies’ wings.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Here lies the heartbeat of the world. When peace reigns here, its rosy fingers will spread out until they fill the whole world.

P.S. It’s been busy around here! We just started our most ambitious house remodel undertaking yet, and my secret project (which I’ll be unveiling soon) is on a tight deadline. So for a while I’ll be posting every other week, on Thursdays. Thank you for stopping by!

 

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Feast your eyes!

…On the photos I took at the Payson Scottish Festival!

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The Scottish Festival is a longstanding Brown family tradition, and one of the things that makes summer great. We all love the traditional fiddle and sword dancing performances. We never miss the Highland Games (our favorite events are the caber toss and sheaf toss). The kids love the sword and weaponry booths. And the genealogist in me loves to explore the clan booths as my heart swells with contentment at seeing so many people getting geeked out on their Scottish heritage.

Of course, the very best part is when all the pipe and drum bands march in the grand parade and then unite to play “Scotland the Brave.”

And here are a few highlights from Scottish Festivals of summers past.

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Practicing her sword dancing on the grand stage

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Highland dancing at its finest

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Logan and Mark watching the parade

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Elihu suited up for battle

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On the battlefield

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Natalie vanquishes her foe

Happy summer! Long live Scotland!

 

My weapon of choice for removing bushes and fighting zombies

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…Is a Sawzall!

When we first moved into our house, the front yard landscape was dominated by a mammoth evergreen shrub. It may have been an attractive bush once, when it was first planted; but it had grown way out of control. Its diameter was a whopping fourteen feet!

In the Google street photos below, taken a couple years before we moved in, you can see just how enormous this thing really was. It had basically commandeered the entire front yard!

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We nicknamed it Ba Sing Se. Because it was green, earthy, and vast enough to hide a flying bison inside.

Something had to be done. We were going to remove the bush completely, but I had a crazy idea: why not carve it into something that looked more like a tree? That way it could still offer some privacy for our big front room window without monopolizing the entire front yard.

So my dad taught me how to use the Sawzall, and afternoon after afternoon I carved away at that thing.

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As I hacked away, I found old bottles, all kinds of trash, a can of spray paint, and no small number of black widow spiders. Hauling away all the debris was no small feat, either. The bush was so dense that it produced a pile of branches the size of a large pickup truck and six big black construction bags full of needles (seriously!).

We planted two maple trees flanking the bush on either side, and I kept sawing away as the bush got smaller…

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And smaller…

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And smaller…

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And smaller. A few years down the road when the maple trees have grown and filled in enough to give some privacy for the front of the house, we may remove the bush completely. But for now we’re quite happy with our “American bonsai tree.”

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And seriously, zombies, don’t mess with me. I know how to wield a Sawzall, okay? My revenge will be swift and terrible.

Independence Day in Teton Valley, and the difference a couple of years can make.

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We kicked off our weekend in Teton Valley at the Independence Day parade in Victor.

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The iconic giant spud making its appearance in the parade

Everything about small-town Idaho on a Fourth of July weekend–the old uniformed men staunchly carrying the colors, the fireworks, the feeling of community, the huckleberry shakes made from berries just picked here in the valley, the fun-loving families breaking out into water fights, the little blonde girls with red and blue ribbons woven into their pigtails–makes me so happy, proud, and grateful to be an American.

(And at the moment I’m feeling proud to be an adoptive Argentine, too.)

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¡Aguante Argentina! We wore our fútbol jerseys to give Argentina luck in their standoff against Belgium…I guess it worked!

On Saturday morning we woke up at 5:00 am to go watch the hot air balloon launch on the rodeo grounds.

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The sunrise and the balloon launch were absolutely magnificent against the background of the Tetons! The view of the Grand was perfect.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s get one thing straight: there is no such thing as the “Grand Tetons.” That’s a misnomer. They’re called the Tetons, or the Teton Range. The “Grand Teton” refers to that big peak in the middle there, or to Grand Teton National Park.

Oh, and Jackson Hole? That’s the name of the whole valley, or hole, where the city of Jackson, Wyoming sits. The valley is called Jackson Hole but the town itself is called Jackson, Wyoming, people!

Whew. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

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Landon experiencing the inside of a hot-air balloon

After the balloon launch, we seized the afternoon and hiked up to one of our favorite spots, the Darby Canyon Wind and Ice Caves.

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The Wind Cave is so named because its entrance is the mouth of an immense waterfall of glacier melt and it’s really…well, windy in there.

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Mark ascending to the mouth of the cave

A mile farther up the trail lies the entrance to the Ice Cave.

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Logan climbing up to the Ice Cave

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Inside the Ice Cave (yes, that’s ice!)

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The view from inside

We hiked to the Wind and Ice Caves exactly two years ago, in July of 2012. Ascending the steep canyon trail and looking back out over the pine valley we had just traversed, I thought a lot about how far I have come in the last two years.

The last time I did this hike, I had just barely gotten home from Argentina. I didn’t have a job or a car or any money (having given up all those things to move to Argentina for eighteen months). Mark and I had written letters for a year and a half, but we’d never really dated–we’d never even so much as held hands! Where would I live, where would I work, what would I do? My life was one giant question mark, and I remember feeling more than a little alone and discouraged as I climbed the cliffs on the way to the Ice Cave.

Now, two years later, everything was different. Mark was by my side and we were trekking this path together. Life had unfolded for me things I never could have imagined. I never would have guessed the struggles that these two years would bring, and how steep the path would feel; but then, I never could have dreamed up the delightful surprises, the gorgeous vistas, and the perfect moments, either.

Some recent trials have snagged me like an unexpected tree root sticking up in the trail that trips you and sends you flying. I’m feeling a little bit like that lonely hiking girl again: a little sad, a little worried, a little unsure. I’m jumping up and brushing myself off and trying to pull the sticker thorns out of my hands. What will the next few years bring? I have no idea! But one thing is for sure: I’ll take the climb.

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The DIY gift that all the 8- to 28-year-old boys in your life will love.

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I have five younger brothers. Anyone who has a lot of brothers (or a lot of cousins, or a lot of sons) knows that they sometimes enjoy beating each other up. In a good way.

Mark and my brothers like to stage sword fights together, but there’s a problem with the weaponry. We’ve bought several wooden practice swords over the years, but they’re small flimsy things that snap and break too easily. On the other hand, real swords are too heavy, too sharp, and in all aspects too dangerous to really use in sword fights.

So for my brother’s birthday Mark set out to design and create the ideal play swords: something sturdy enough not to get broken in combat play but still soft enough not to do any real damage in a heavy blow.

The swords that Mark engineered fit the bill perfectly. Because of the PVC core, they are sturdy and unbreakable and feel heavy like real swords. But because of the soft foam all around the “blades,” you can deliver really hard hits without hurting anyone. Perfect for a band of backyard scalawags.

To make a batch of swords for your crew, all you’ll are the following materials:

  • A permanent marker.
  • Scissors.
  • Duct tape. With two full rolls of duct tape you can make four swords; you may want a few different colors (we used black, standard silver/gray, and red).
  • A camping pad. Nothing fancy, just a cheap foam one–you can buy them at Walmart or just about anywhere for under $15. One camping pad is enough to make five swords.
  • PVC pipe, cut to the lengths you want the swords to be. We used quarter-inch PVC and cut the swords to lengths between three and five feet long.

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The first step (below) is to roll your PVC into the camping pad and mark where the edge touches. This mark lets you know how wide to cut your piece of foam. Also mark where you want the blade of your sword to end and the hilt to begin (below, bottom). This mark lets you know how long to cut your piece of foam, since the hilt of the sword will not have foam wrapped around it.

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Next cut out your piece of foam from the camping pad, following the marks you just made. Be sure to do this in your pajamas and then post a photo on the internet.

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Now you have your foam piece cut perfectly to fit the size of the PVC pipe. (Except the hilt; it remains uncovered because if it were wrapped in foam it would be too thick to grip.)

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Now you get to start making the blade of your sword! Roll the foam around the PVC and secure it with a few pieces of duct tape. Make sure to roll, wrap, and tape really tightly because otherwise the foam will slide around on your PVC. And a sliding-around-foam-sword would not be a very intimidating way to do battle.

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Keep wrapping tape as tightly as you can (below) until the blade is all covered (below, bottom).

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Getting a pointy sword tip is easy–you just cut the ends of your foam and wrap more duct tape.

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Now you’ll have a fine-looking blade! But alas, no hilt. This is where a second color of duct tape plays a part. You wrap it around the bare PVC to make a hilt. We used black (below).

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And now the fun part! (Not that ripping piece after piece of silver duct tape for the blade ISN’T fun.) Time to add finishing touches!

You can use colored duct tape to add a pommel (above). You can use more foam and duct tape to engineer a cross guard, or even two (below). Let your imagination run wild. Watch Lord of the Rings to inspire you (and to keep you entertained while you rip duct tape for two hours.)

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Behold the finished products!

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Below, a hand and a half sword

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A Scottish broadsword

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A Norman sword

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A Scottish claymore, or two-handed longsword

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I worried that there might be some arguing about who claimed which sword, but that was not the case. Each warrior gravitated to a different sword (thank goodness!). No arguments.

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The battles, however, are just beginning!

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Avast ye! There are games afoot!

And now I’m off on a summer road trip to go enjoy Fourth of July fireworks agains the backdrop of the Tetons! Happy Independence Day!

P.S. I’ve decided that for the rest of the summer I’ll be posting once a week, on Thursdays. (Why Thursday? Because I was born on a Thursday, and married on a Thursday…it’s my favorite day of the week!)