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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Nine months ago I met my baby boy face to face for the first time in this life.

Hezekiah is so kind and good. His spirit feels so ancient and wise, yet so youthful and playful.

He has his dad’s curly hair and his eyes are kaleidoscopes of green and blue and gold.

Every part and piece of my life is better with Hezekiah in it.

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I sleep better than I ever have before with him nestled in the crook of my arm, his little belly rising and falling next to mine. All the adventures we go on–running the river in our raft, hiking the trails of the Wasatch Mountains, exploring the museums and markets of our city–are better with our little best friend in tow.

And my husband, who was already the person I most love and admire in all the world, has only grown more beloved to me as I’ve witnessed the uncontainable love he has for our son.

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Everything is better now that we are a family.

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Hezekiah’s three-month pictures by the lovely and talented Ashley Masters.

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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Westwater Canyon, the Jordan River, and Summertime Water Adventures

Logan (age eight), Evan (age six), and me (age ten) on top of Mt. Timpanogos

Logan (age eight), Evan (age six), and me (age ten) on top of Mt. Timpanogos

The same way I spent my childhood camping in the Uinta Mountains, hiking through southern Utah’s red rock canyons, and eating tinfoil dinners “because if you’re going to eat dinner anyway it might as well be over a campfire,” Mark spent his childhood at the Pacific Ocean.

Mark and his brothers at the Ventura Pier. Photo by Michael Sears.

All the brothers at the Ventura Harbor. Photo by Michael Sears.

Growing up only four blocks, and later eight miles, from the beach, Mark inherited his dad’s love for the ocean, for surfing, and for beach volleyball. Family fun meant body boarding, tossing a frisbee or aerobie around in the sand, and catching waves. And whenever we go visit the California folks, it still does.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Now that Mark is here in my landlocked country to stay (at least for the next few years), he’s been having some water recreation withdrawals, so we do our best to find summertime aquatic adventures.

We love the Mona rope swing…

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The water park that’s only five minutes from our house…

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And the Payson Grotto with the siblings.

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Last summer we decided to go whitewater rafting for Mark’s birthday. We piled our camping gear on the motorcycle and drove 235 miles to Moab, where we set out for Westwater Canyon.

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Westwater Canyon is a seventeen-mile stretch of the Colorado River that features class IV rapids and otherworldly terrain. It’s a black volcanic rock canyon inside of a red rock sandstone one, so when we weren’t paddling as hard as we could through the rapids and trying to stay in the boat, we got to float and take in the gorgeous scenery.

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And this year for Mark’s birthday we found a good deal on an inflatable paddle boat! We’ve already taken it on some grand adventures: to the Spanish Fork Reservoir with friends and on a seven-mile journey down the Jordan River, where we saw amazing wildlife (a beaver so big it looked like a baby bear, among other things) and felt like we were in another world.

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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!)

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

When I was a baby and she was, too

When I was a baby and she was, too

In 2010 right before I left for Argentina

In 2010 right before I left for Argentina

On my wedding day

On my wedding day

I am so thankful to have the greatest and best mom in the whole world, who instilled in me a love for learning, reading, and adventuring; who taught me everything I know about good grammar, great cooking, and great fashion sense; who showed me that Jesus Christ and family are the most important things; who taught me how to decorate an amazing room on a shoestring budget, how to keep climbing a mountain when I’m exhausted and want to give up, how to be brave and perform an act of kindness for a stranger, and so much more.

I love you, Mom!

(2010 photo and wedding day photo taken by the amazingly talented Jennifer Grigg.)