Farewell, Ventura.

Well, it’s official. My in-laws no longer live in California. It will be wonderful having them closer; and, like so many big changes, it’s bittersweet.

We took full advantage of their hospitality: from September 2012 to March 2015 we visited them in California ten times! 2013 was the record-setting year with five road trips to Ventura. It’s a place of many special memories for Mark and me: our first road trip together, the first time I met his parents and felt the warmth of their love and their welcome, the first time he gave me flowers and officially asked me to be his girlfriend.

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(Spoiler alert: I said yes.)

I’m not going to miss the grueling twelve-hour drive across the hot desert. But I am going to miss arriving, climbing out of the car, and heading straight for the backyard hammock.

I’m going to miss the times that Mark’s little sister and I snuck out her second-story window, climbed onto the roof, and lay there on our backs watching for shooting stars.

(I’m not going to miss the old-fashioned pull-chain toilet and the thundering roar it made when flushed, so terrifying on middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.)

I’m going to miss hikes and bike rides high up in the hills, where mountains stretch as far as you can see in one direction and the glimmering blue expanse of the ocean in the other. From up there you can see oil tankers and cargo ships moving off the coast, and the Channel Islands look like just another ridge of mountains peeking through the haze.

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I’m going to the times Mark and I borrowed my father-in-law’s Boulevard (comfiest bike ever!) to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Carpinteria, or to forbidden hot springs and secret swimming holes near Ojai.

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I’m going to miss the old yellow house, the one built in 1880 and lovingly maintained by Mark’s grandparents, where Mark’s parents and aunts and uncles had their wedding receptions, and we had ours.

I’m going to miss walking the few blocks from the yellow house down to the Jelly Bowl Beach, where we spent hours spotting storks and anemones and iridescent-colored fish and crabs in the tidepools.

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I’m going to miss my favorite bike ride in the world, the one that winds through the verdant hills and barrancas of Ojai, past oil derricks and graffitied industrial yards, ending on the beach and the Ventura Promenade.

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I’m going to miss beach days, and exploring the old Spanish missions of Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura.

I’m going to miss the Ventura Harbor.

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(Above and below: when I was six months pregnant!)

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It’s the end of an era, for sure.

Someday we’ll take our son there, to show him all the old haunts. We’ll tell him, “This is the house that belonged to your great-grandma Madelyn, who never got to hold you. This is where your grandpa lived and went to school and surfed those big waves.

“This is where your daddy grew up and had adventures with his brothers, who were his best friends. This is where he brought Mama to meet his parents for the first time, and she knew for certain that she wanted to be part of their family. This is where you went hiking in the mountains and paddleboarding in the ocean when you were growing in your mama’s belly.”

And we’ll make new memories, too. We’ll play on the pirate ship and the zipline at Marina Park. We’ll eat shark salad on the Ventura Pier. We’ll take a ferry out to the islands and kayak around the sea caves.

We’ll camp on the beach. When the stars have come out and our campfire is dying down, when we can no longer suppress our sleepy yawns, we’ll retire to bed, a puddle of pillows and sleeping bags and cuddly bodies squished together. Outside our tent we’ll hear the waves lapping on the sand, and we’ll fall asleep to the rhythmic lullabye of the ocean.

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Halloween 2015

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Better late than never!

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For your edification, an excerpt from the Pokémon theme song, the lyrics of which are uncannily applicable to parenthood:

Pokémon, it’s you and me
I know it’s my destiny
Pokémon, oh, you’re my best friend
In a world we must defend

Pokémon, a heart so true
Our courage will pull us through
You teach me and I’ll teach you
Pokémon!

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We built a swing set!

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A certain seven-year-old sister of mine recently outgrew the kiddie swing set in the backyard. This wasn’t just a minor inconvenience but a real calamity, since the swing set was her therapy. Whenever she was emotionally overwrought my mom would send her to the backyard; she’d sing her lungs out and swing for a couple hours and then come back inside a new creature.

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Swinging wasn’t just her therapy; in her words, “Swinging is my best talent. I’m going to be a swinger when I grow up.” So there you have it. Her healing balm, her talent, and her calling and vocation.

Mark and I had drawn her name for Christmas, and I really wanted to get her a swing set big enough for her. But real backyard swing sets are ridiculously expensive. So I decided that we were going to build one.

Mark warned me that it would be a long, involved project. “No, it won’t take that long!” I told him.

He was right. It was a doozy. I guess I underestimate how long and intense things will be—like the high Uintas backpacking trip we did with 4+ feet of snow on the ground last summer, or the 500-mile camping road trip on the bullet bike the summer before. Or buying and remodeling a decrepit 60-year-old house on a shoestring student budget.

But the best feeling in the world is biting off more than you can chew and chewing it anyway, right? It was an involved project. But the wonderful man I’m married to stuck with me and didn’t complain or remind me, “I told you so.” We finished the swing set on Christmas Eve, just in time for a little sister’s Christmas present (and just before a three-day blizzard hit).

And the effort was all worth it every time we see this happy swinging face!

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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!

 

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!)

Santa Monica Pier

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Today Mark’s family returned home to California after spending a long weekend visiting us here in Utah.

A month ago, on our way to Tel Aviv, we visited them.We had a long layover in Los Angeles, so everybody was nice enough to take the day off and pick us up at LAX for a day of family fun.

We explored Santa Monica and ate lunch on the boardwalk, then enjoyed the sunshine and the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier.

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Thank you, dear family, for always making time to have fun adventures with us! We can’t wait for the next one!