I sat down to my computer to write a post, but got caught up reading old ones. I really need to make it more of a habit to go back through the Archives. It is incredible the perspective that comes with time. I started with posts from the month of May over the years. I’m so thankful I’ve been blogging for so long! I came across one from 4 years ago about my second son. I think what I love most about reading this post now is realizing how much he HASN’T changed. The goofy six year old is now a goofy 10 year old that fills our home with laughter.

The post also has some photo tips for those of you trying to get pictures of a less-than-thrilled subject!

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My middle son was not very thrilled with taking 5 minutes out of playing in the yard to have his picture taken. I’m guessing most parents understand how difficult it is to get pictures of kids that just don’t want to be photographed. I thought I would share how my time with my son went…as an encouragement that you can sometimes still get a great shot despite an unwilling subject. Normally I would have just waited for a day he was in the mood, but time keeps slipping by and I just wanted to get it done.

So, the session began with this shot. Can’t you tell how incredibly thrilled he is about it all?

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I asked, begged him just to look at me and smile. And got this.
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The more I asked for cooperation, the more I got this.
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Now, here is my trick – I just keep snapping. Eventually in the midst of the grumpy & goofy faces he is bound to let a smile out simply because he is actually having a little fun being a squirt about not smiling for me. So I just kept snapping…never getting upset with him, being calm about it, not making his mood worse, just waiting. And in that waiting, for one split second an adorable grin is released. Because I was still snapping and being calm about the whole process, I was ready and able to capture that very short smile.

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And a nano second later, this face returned.
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I changed angles a bit and told him how much I love seeing his smile – he gave me a little one on his 0wn.
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Then the smile disappeared. I let him jump off the chair. Trick #2 – let little boys (and girls) jump off things. Brightens their mood instantly. But, once the jump was over…the not so happy face returned.

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I asked him to stand still….he responded by moving around. Watching me try to capture him in movement made him laugh. And, I captured that smile. I could have got upset with him for moving around, and then we would have just both been grumpy. I let him play his game, it allowed him to smile and I got 2 cute natural grins.
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Then we moved to location number two. He was thrilled to have more pictures taken…
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“Please just a couple more with a happy face.”…and I got these:
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I told him that some people believe if you make a silly face long enough, your face will freeze that way. He thought that was funny and laughed. I was ready for the laugh and caught the big smile.
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He realized I caught the smile and his face quickly changed.
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No problem…I got what I wanted and our very short session was over. That made his smile return.

Update: The settings for all of these photos were the same! ISO 100, 1/500, f2.8 The sky was overcast so I could just leave it all the same. If you notice the background..the closer I am to the him, the blurrier the subject. The farther I moved away from him the less blurry the things closest to him.

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My daughter was tossing flower petals in the front yard as I was thinking about my friends. And it hit me. Tossing flowers and dancing in the beauty of it…it was a picture of the type of friend I want to be in regards to supporting my friends. As a blogger and small business owner (SnapShops), it means the world to me when a friend shares a blog post I wrote or ‘likes’ a photo on Instagram. When someone signs up for SnapShop and lets me know they were referred by a friend of mine, well, it is the biggest encouragement to me. I am grateful for the opportunity to help support my family by doing things I enjoy, when a friend supports me – it is icing on the cake.

We all have different gifts. Different passions. Different interests. Different opportunities. I want to be a friend that celebrates and supports.

Each night I open up facebook in order to find a link to the next day’s workout posted by my Crossfit gym. Inevitably in the quick search for a workout, I see posts from friends about their businesses….oils, skin care, make-up, protein powders, etc. Some days it feels like everyone I know has a MLM-based business (Multi-Level Marketing). I briefly considered building one myself.

And that is not a bad thing!

A quick scroll on social media and you undoubtedly will have read posts promoting a MLM business and the products. If you are friends with a large number of people in that realm, it can easily feel like you are the only one not working in that business model….and that you are missing out on something amazing.

A couple of months ago I was talking to a friend about how it feels like everyone is thriving with a MLM-based business. This friend of mine, she is a world changer. Everyday she is pouring her gifts and talents into vulnerable kids and families. She doesn’t get free trips. She doesn’t make a six figure income. Her employer doesn’t give her expensive gifts to celebrate a job well done. Every day she is pouring herself out at a job that she loves. Her work is often only noticed by those she is quietly serving day in and day out. She was made for the work she does and anyone that meets her knows it right away. In our conversation, she mentioned sometimes feeling silly doing a ‘normal’ job when it seemed like so many others were running MLM businesses and thriving financially…and in so many other ways.

My heart sank at her words. I knew many other women felt the same way. The career my friend is pouring into, if she stepped away from it countless lives would suffer. She could easily step into a MLM and work towards building a business, but all that she would be walking away from…well, it makes me sad to even think about that scenario.

MLM-01I often think about our conversation as I’ve watched friend after friend begin building a MLM based business. I have friends at the highest levels of several MLM companies. I hear their stories, read about their success and watch them enjoy the fruits of their labor. They are doing what they love and they are having so much fun in the process. They are building up women, giving generously, starting non-profits and changing lives in positive ways. It is a beautiful thing.

I think the tricky thing for those of us not building a MLM business is to recognize that we are not all created to do the same thing, to be confident in who we are and know that is a very beautiful thing too. MLMs are designed to recruit and build a sales force. It results in a profitable business, but sometimes it can inadvertently make others feel like what they do is less than or not as valuable because the benefits are different.

My friend may not make the same income or perks that come with many MLMs. She does, however, make daily ripples in the lives of others that go on to create waves too vast to be measured. You can do that in an MLM and you can do it outside of an MLM.

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Shortly after our chat, I was reading Jenn Hatmaker’s book For the Love. In it she admonishes readers to simplify their lives to what is beautiful, essential and life-giving while not making others feel guilty for making different choices.  What is life-giving, beautiful and essential to each of us is as unique as we were each created. Jenn also calls her readers to “celebrate the decent accomplishments of Ordinary Hard Life.”

I loved that line. Celebrate the decent accomplishments of an ordinary life. I’m not sure when ordinary became such a negative word. Ordinary can be the most beautiful life when we look at it through the right lens.

When my friends begin building a MLM business, I’m going to cheer them on in the same way I cheer on my other friends. I am going to support them by ‘liking’ their posts. I will also be honest when I want to cheer for them, but do not need product or want to join the business. When others criticize, I’m going cheer. I am going to recognize that my friends (and acquaintances), like me, are working to help support their family. I am going to refer business their way. I am going to check in and ask them how business is going. Instead of viewing their business as “one more MLM”, I’m going to see beyond the business model and see the friend working hard. Just like I want my friends to support me with SnapShop, I’m going to cheer for them as they do what makes them thrive.

When it comes to my friends, I’m going to throw my support around them with wild abandon.

I’m going to “like” and “share” and refer in the same way my daughter tosses flower petals.

The more she throws, the more fun she has and the more beautiful a world she creates.

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  • Niki - There have been SO many times that your posts have given me goose bumps and spoken directly to my heart. This is yet another one that caught my breath and made me stop. We have many friends right now that are moving on to bigger and better things – new homes, new jobs, new adventures – and we’re just…. here. While I find myself thinking we’re falling behind or wishing for what they had, I’m trying to stop and relish the ordinary. Thank you for perfectly putting into words what I have been feeling!

  • Missy Bush - Thank you for this post. I also have friends who work in this business model and have had wonderful success. I support them, though I don’t think it would be right for me. I work in a family manufacturing business and love it. I am able to work in a business I grew up in with 3 of my siblings and a sister-in-law. It is unique and traditional at the same time. I too try to encourage others no matter what they do. It is tempting to be jealous of such success with all the perks it brings, but that does not feel good. It feels good to affirm others for the business they have a passion for and at the same time feel good about my more traditional choice of jobs that has its own wonderful perks. I enjoy your blog. Thank you again!

  • Susan - Love your line about seeing beyond the business model and seeing a friend working hard. I just read an article in Parents magazine about MLM http://www.parents.com/parenting/work/direct-sales-the-truth-about-selling-from-home/. In it the author writes that most people who join a MLM venture lose money. It’s something I’ve wondered about seeing family sell… Will support but somewhat wary of the selling model.

  • Carrie Davis - Great post! I’ve never once considered that an MLM would be my next career – I’m just not a salesperson…but I LOVE what you say here – it’s about encouragement. So much time is spent judging – if we’d all just encourage – the world would be a much better place!

  • Jaime - I love your post Ash! You are one of the most supportive friends I know. I admire your ability to juggle everything you do, and always have time for friends! Your doing a great job, and a awesome example to those around you.

  • Tessa - I have really been “burdened” (in a good way) lately about how God really places different passions on each of our hearts, and how difficult it is to not compare our passion with others, and end up feeling less or EVEN more than them. Obviously we are all on different paths and at different stages in our walk with God, and yet we still try to measure ourselves against each other. It is like a 2 year old trying to compare themselves to an adult in developmental stages, obviously a ridiculously unfair comparison. Instead I am trying to encourage others in any way I can, and not measure myself with their faith journey .. which is again, a ridiculously unfair comparison.

  • Jamie - I totally get what you are saying, but I think this post unintentionally makes it seem like MLM ventures are an easy way to make money and therefore actually encourages people to do them. While some succeed, studies overwhelmingly show that most people lose money. In the process, they harm their friendships by pressuring them to buy things they don’t need or want. This post isn’t helping either side. I love your perspectives on so many things and wanted to comment so you were aware of how this post could be read.

  • Amanda - I really appreciate this post, you’re a good friend with a good heart. I’m not challenging your thoughtful, kind approach at all, but if it’s ok I’d like to discuss it further from another perspective!

    I struggle with the MLM craze. So much of what I see from friends in this world is genuinely judgemental and actively, intentionally puts down those of us who are earning a living in a traditional way. It’s honestly hurtful. I’ve lost a couple friends to Rodan and Fields in particular. Meeting bombarded with copy/pasted ads is a little annoying, sure, but it goes beyond annoying and into the realm of damaging when the post they’re sharing as their own words, or a post they did in fact write themselves, slams and mocks the people who “just don’t get it” or are “too afraid to join us and aren’t #bossbabes” or “are wasting their lives” or “are sacrificing motherhood for a paycheck.” Those are terrible things to say to your friends. I’m not slamming your career or choices, and I don’t appreciate it being done to me.

    I struggled to separate this attitude and language out from my real life friends. When we don’t see eachother for a month and those are the words you’re pushing on a daily basis, that becomes what I think of when I think of you, friend. I wish these people would consider that. Your online behavior matters! And there were friends who were genuinely hurt that I don’t “support” their business by “liking and sharing”, despite me asking how it’s going and having nothing negative to say. But I’d hidden them from my newsfeed because I didn’t want their snarky, mean-spirited marketing language to overshadow the impression I have of them from our years as friends! I explained this and expressed how happy I am for them and how much I care about them, but there is a huge separation between those #bossbabes and the rest of us. And they make sure to hammer that point home, daily. It sucks. It sucks!!

    The only true moral problem I have with MLM is when things are dishonest (claiming to be rolling in cash, but secretly struggling financially, working three jobs, actively lying about it on social media to make things look attractive and entice your loved ones into getting into the same pickle you’re in). Beyond that, this should just be a difference in career choices. It shouldn’t rock friendship boats. I shouldn’t see this happening to many friends and relatives, decades long friendships damaged because of hurt feelings on both sides. This, as they say, is why you maybe shouldn’t mix business with pleasure. MLM is risky in that respect and I hope people will be thoughtful about how they go about it.

  • Amanda - And oh my goodness don’t get me started on people on the same “team” who are at each others throats because one woman decided the business wasn’t right for her family’s life at the moment, backed out with apologies and hugs in an appropriately times manner, and her friend cut her out of her life completely. Because she “cost her” a large recruitment bonus.

  • emily - A few years ago, I read The Gift of An Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison, and then I read My Monastery is a Minivan by Denise Roy and then I read all of Karen Maezen Miller’s books — I have been enamoured with the beautiful mundane ever since. I’ve added Jen Hatmaker’s book to my list (ok, I’ve bumped it up on the list) and I will try to think more graciously of my friends who have mlms. Thank you for your post. Inspiring, once again <3

  • kristin w - i’m so glad that you wrote this! i would be terrible in a MLM biz, but i’m pretty decent at pointing people to my friends who have one. i am a huge fan of the ‘ordinary’ life, and it took me about 24 years to realize that is SUCH a blessing. xoxo. love this blog. thanks for sharing bits of life with us!

  • Mallory - YES!!!! To all of this!!

  • Abigail - Thank you for this! I was just talking to my sister last night about all this. I just left one of those parties last night. All I wanted was to buy the face cream to try and I ended up feeling like I was wrong because I didn’t want to join and become a distibutor. The whole way home I questioned why wouldn’t I want to make an extra $500 a month. My husband owns his own business and I stay home with the kids and some months things are hard financially. Reading this encouraged me that there isn’t anything wrong with me to not want to sell things. I will continue to buy and support my friends but will try not to feel bad about not doing it myself

  • Stephany - Thank you for this post. I use products from on of the many MLM’s out there. I also tried to start a business with it, but it just isn’t for me…right now. Our family, luckily, is in a financial situation where I don’t have to work, but making some money to contribute to our financial situation couldn’t hurt. However, I found, personally, that my time spent in front of the computer trying to make a business work wasn’t working for my family. So, I stepped back into my role as “just a wife, mom, school volunteer and home maker”. Ordinary, yes. Where I need to be at this stage in my life, yes. I’m ok with it.

  • Jen Y - I love this post! I am a MLM’er and I always find it interesting when friends think I’m making money hand over fist…not even close. Yes, I post pictures of fun parties, working on my customer care while enjoying coffee at Starbucks, joining in on virtual training while my daughter plays on the beach, and I do love the company and the product, and I do a good enough business…it’s never cost me money to do it.(One of the drawbacks of social media…it’s easy to paint a pretty pictures, or have your posts taken in a more exciting way than they are intended). There are so many assumptions made about MLM and so much criticism that your take on it is refreshing. I’d hate to think that anyone with a more traditional job feels like they are missing the boat by not being part of a MLM company…sometimes I feel like I’m missing the boat by not having a more traditional job with a known paycheck every pay day. But, in this SAHM season of my life MLM is what works for me and provides a little fun money for me/the family.

    Most of the MLM people I know are on their 3rd or 4th MLM company…so you know…take it with a grain of salt. Not that it can’t be great, but the grass is always greener it seems.

  • Sarah Marie - This is so beautifully written. As someone who has a 9-5 and a side hustle it gets tiring when my MLM friends are posting their cars and vacations. Thank you for validating that my somewhat ordinary life is beautiful too!

  • Jen - Amanda – oh my goodness…girl we are all #bossbabes! Every single one of us is running our lives in a way that works for us, regardless of what our “work” situation is. Goodness me…I’m so sorry you have had such unfortunate interactions with some of your MLM friends. Not cool.

  • Lisa G - This post was a literal answer to my prayer last night. God is so good when we ask and are open to listening. All around me are success stories and it all seems so easy. I love the people that are living it, but I am not called to that role. Thank you for putting into words what my heart has been telling me and for being the answer to my prayer of direction on this subject!

  • Kimberlee Jost - Thank you for having the courage to say these things and live them out too.
    Xo.

  • Sergio Cázares - Great post! I usually don’t post anything negative towards those who choose not to join but have thought about it. It’s definitely not for everyone and that’s ok. I only tell people about my business by inviting them to take a look, if it’s for them, great, if not, no big deal. You get out of it what you put into it. I will say, the future looks promising!

  • iamcart - This is such a great post, thank you so much for, again, pointing out the obvious! I’m not, nor will I ever be a sales person, it’s just not in me. Regardless of how “vivacious” or “out going” I am, I can’t stand rejection. But now I am going to try and support my friends that can way more!

  • Caroline Lim - This is such a graceful and beautiful post, Ashley!! I’m the one NOT doing mlm, i teach little kids. And very often I feel “lesser” because of the amount I take home each month, and the type of things I can afford. But at the same time, I’m so proud of my choice to teach. Yes, we have different gifts and talents. And we should embrace each other.
    Thank you for bringing this to light. I feel so much better about this issue. so real in my life. Xo, Caroline.

  • angela barger - thanks for forcing me to look at the mlm world in a different way… and to have a little more grace and mercy on these people. these people i love… but sometimes drive me batty with incessant posts. :-*

  • Cathy - I LOVE this post Ashley!! I have a close relative who is in the MLM business, I support her by showing up when she has get togethers, but only buy when they are things I actually want or need. But seeing her posts often make me think I’m missing out on something, with all the #fulltimefamily #makedreamscometrue and other hashtags. I know full and well I would not do well staying home all day with my kiddos, I love my job and excel at it. I am where I should be and know that in my heart, sometimes my head gets in the way! This is a great reminder to encourage everyone, not just those that are jumping out to start a new MLM, maybe those that are staying put because they know that is the best place for them right now, just because they aren’t starting a new adventure doesn’t mean we still don’t dream big and not the only way to those dreams are through MLM!

  • Mary - You chose the better path. I was with an MLM and missed out on so much of my children’s childhoods only to have the company declare bankruptcy as my children were entering high school (and I should have been moving to full-time and big bucks).

This is going to be a long post! While on our recent trip to Utah and Arizona, I was asked a lot of questions related to the trip. I have compiled most of those questions here and tried to combine ones that were similar. Hopefully, this will help some of you as you plan trips!

How do you manage to go on long trips (with work and expenses)? Chris and I both work from home and my business is entirely online. I can work anywhere that I have wifi access, so we pick campsites that allow me to work when needed. Chris is self-employed, but he has commitments to clients and events that require him to be home. However, he is able to continue to work with phone and wifi access while we travel. That being said, we have a significant amount of flexibility with our schedules.

As far as the expenses go, we travel very inexpensively. In the two weeks we were gone on the last trip, I think we ate out about 4 times. All other meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were in our trailer, so our food expenses are basically the same as at home. We stay in our trailer at campsites that are $25-50 a night, usually on the lower end. Most of the things we do on trips are free (hiking, exploring). The national parks offer a park pass to 4th graders. It gets the entire family into the parks for free, so we didn’t have that expense. Our biggest expenses is gas. In general, we try to live significantly UNDER our means, so that helps tremendously when we want to spend extra on gas for a trip. All in all, we are primarily paying for gas and the RV campsite, while continuing to work some on the road too. For more information on what life in our trailer looks like, click here for a post I previously wrote.

6.14trailerlife-6Where do you start? How do you research? We have a LONG list of places all over the globe we want to visit. When we begin planning a trip, we start with considering how much time we have for that trip. Our family does not do well with trips that feel very rushed with lots of driving. We need downtime and the ability to move slow. Road trips allow us to go at a slow pace.

For our recent trip to Arizona and Utah, we knew we had two weeks we could spend away. Once we knew the dates of the trip, we began picking a handful of places we wanted to visit.

When it comes to picking places to visit, we use our National Parks guide, TripAdvisor, Pinterest, and I always ask the advice of those that read this blog and follow my instagram account. For this trip our key spots were: Albuquerque (to see friends), Petrified National Forest, the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, Escalante, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Once we have our list of stops, we look at our atlas to figure out the route we want to take. For road trips that include several stops, we try to stay at least two nights in each location. This gives us time to explore without feeling rushed.

Our trailer does not have water hook-ups and we don’t use a generator, so we camp in places with electrical and water available (RV parks and campgrounds). Most national parks book campsites 6 months in advance. If you can plan that far ahead, the national parks usually have great camping options. We don’t plan that far in advance, so Chris does internet research and picks our campsites based on our needs. (nps.gov, Trip Advisor, and Good Sam are big helps). Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised. Other times we are thankful it is only two nights! We also try to find campgrounds that have free wifi, so we can continue to work while on the road (when needed).

In summary, before we leave we know the location where we will spend each night and sometimes a certain place we want to visit. We would be happy not even scheduling campsites, but we’ve learned the hard way that places fill up weeks in advance. Once we get to a location (or as we are driving) we begin thinking about what we want to do. Our daily plans are very fluid and change constantly. We just have to make sure we are at the right campsite each night!

What type of vehicle do you use to pull your camper and fit your entire family for a long trip? We have a Suburban. Keep in mind our trailer is from 1966, which means it had to be pulled behind the size of trucks and cars back then…it is relatively light! On the other hand….it is 50 years old. Repairs happen often!

How did you keep your kids from killing each other in the car that much? Since our kids typically spend ALL day being very physical when we are camping – climbing, hiking, swimming, running – we let them veg out in the car. When we drive from one location to the next, they often watch movies or play video games. There is the random, “Everyone turn everything off! You need to be daydreaming and gazing out the window” that I call out. It usually doesn’t last long. We also rearrange seating if two siblings are bothering each other too much. And food. Snacks. Drinks. Snacks. Drinks. I keep a cooler with cold things in the back (since we don’t need storage because we have the trailer) and a bag of dry snacks in the main part of the car.

On the 10 hour drive home from our Utah trip, we had one kiddo that was DONE. I mean done done. Parents, you know what I mean. It was Mother’s Day. There were tornado warnings in Oklahoma. About 2 hours from home, I looked at Chris and said, “Just let me out of the car. I will walk home. In the rain. Through a tornado. Just let me out of this car!”  – our kids are not always singing travel songs and talking about rainbows on the really long drives, but our trailer sure does look cute going down the road!

5.16avion-01Would you mind sharing camping meal ideas and tips?

We have a full size refrigerator in our trailer. We also have an electric skillet, waffle maker and our espresso machine. I can make just about anything with those items. It is not like tent camping. We eat totally differently when camping in our tent. When using our trailer, we eat very similar to what we would at home. There are tons of camping meal ideas on Pinterest.

Any tips/tricks you could offer on efficiently camping with kids, storage and packing?

Keep in mind we are camping in a trailer, not a tent. It is a whole different ball game. We have storage…lots of storage. Every family member has a bin to keep their clothes. If you look at the photo below, I will walk you through how we store things. On the right (behind the curtains, below the bed) we store our clothes. Everyone has a designated spot. On the lower left side (behind the doors) we store a laundry basket for dirty clothes, school books and trailer maintenance stuff. In the top cabinets, we keep sweatshirts, gloves, beanies, towels, and each family member has another little bin that is their own. Keeping things super organized is key for my sanity in the trailer. There is also storage in the other end of the trailer for blankets, sheets, etc.

As far as packing, we have learned to pack for every season! Everyone has t-shirts, shorts, jeans, sweatshirts, swimsuits…a little of everything. We don’t have to pack super light since we are in the trailer.

6.14aviontour-013How did you all fit in that tiny camper? First, we aren’t the tallest people in the crowd. Chris is 5’9″ and I am 5’1″…the kids are all shorter. I don’t think we would do a vintage camper if we were tall. It would not be very comfortable. When we are all in the trailer, there is not much extra space. We jockey positions as we move around. It feels a little like Tetris! We actually do not spend a lot of time in the trailer, so we don’t need much room. We are usually out and about all day and return just to eat and sleep. When it is time to sleep, we pull a board between the two twin beds and add a mattress on top of the board and another below it. This gives us sleeping space for 4 people. The other 3 share the front bed. Tetris.

You can see a full tour of our trailer by clicking here.

6.14aviontour-016So, how often do you and/or Chris end up carrying the girls? This changes depending on the hike. If it is fairly level, the girls can hike several miles without being carried. If the hike involves a significant amount of climbing, our youngest usually wants to be carried a bit. On this last trip, we hiked between 5-8 miles almost every day for 2 weeks. Our 6 year old was only carried once or twice for about 5 minutes. She can completely hold her own. There were times she wanted breaks and a little extra motivation. If she wanted a rest stop, we always stopped. We also picked hikes based on not just on what we thought they could handle, but what would be fun. If hiking is miserable, they won’t want to go. If hiking is a fun adventure, even with a little physical push, they want to keep going.

5.16carry-01What do you bring with you on your hikes? Backpacks. Sunglasses. Water. Hats. Snacks. First Aid. Camera. Depending on the hike and length, we might bring something extra like more sunscreen or flipflops.

A couple years ago, we picked up three kid-size backpacks from REI. They are the perfect size for the boys (and me) for day hikes. We can pack a lot or just a little in them. They have waist straps, a chest strap, emergency whistle and enough padding to provide some support. I cannot recommend them enough. I connected with the company Babiators prior to our trip. They sent each of my kids a pair and the glasses held up to my rough and tumble kids…they can bend, flex and be dropped off large rocks without breaking. The main point though is they protect my kids’ eyes, which is the most important to me.

For snacks we pack trail mix, granola bars, stuff that can get mashed in a backpack and not melt in the heat. For the first aid kit, I just fill a quart size ziploc bag with a few key things out of our bigger first aid pack that stays in the trailer. It fits in the top little pocket of one of the backpacks. And my camera. I always have my camera!

5.16shadebags-015.16backpack-01I find myself constantly wondering if you are afraid of wildlife? What do you do to prepare for an encounter, have you ever had one and are your kids worried at all? Honestly, as parents we aren’t worried, so our kids pick up on that and aren’t worried either. We know our surroundings, potential risks and precautions. For instance, in Yellowstone we hiked with bear spray and did not put ourselves in places that bears were known to frequent. In Utah, we knew what snakes to watch for as we hiked. We never saw any. By nature, Chris and I aren’t not very fearful individuals, so that helps. We do educate ourselves on potential risks (always reading trail head signs and so on). We also take the kids to ranger talks where they learn all about wildlife and how to respond if they encounter a dangerous (or not dangerous) animal.

We also teach the kids to respect wildlife by not feeding animals or trying to scare them. In national parks, most animals have lost a bit of their ‘wild’ due to so many interactions with humans. They either coming running towards people hoping for food or try to stay away from people.

4.16Zion-19How many times did you tell your kids to stay away from the edge of the canyon? Only a handful. My kids are getting older. A few years ago, I said it several times each hike. These days, they make good decisions regarding safety while hiking. I think with so many difficult and challenging hikes over the years, they’ve learned to know when to lean towards thrill and when to lean harder towards caution. This was not always the case.

When hiking around ledges and drop-offs, you have to know your kids. I saw a few teenagers that caused me far more concern my guys. In addition, we take the kids to ranger talks on safety. In fact, one ranger talk in Yellowstone was about death and dying in the park. It sounds gruesome, but the ranger geared it towards kids. My boys have not forgotten that talk and it has caused them to be far safer while hiking.

4.16GrandCanyon-13Do you have any tips on safe hiking with your littlest? We all try to show extra grace and patience. Being the youngest, she wants to keep up and do all that her siblings can do. However, she also gets tired and fussy. We try to make it as fun as possible for her. She likes to talk the whole time we walk, so we engage her in conversation. When she begins dragging, we let her take the lead. Chris or I are always near her, either holding her hand or walking close by her. She has constant supervision and engagement. This is easy to do since the other four are much more independent. On hikes I tend to stay with the boys while Chris stays with the girls. If both girls are getting tired, we each take one girl and the boys lead the way. Our youngest still gets carried when she gets really tired and the rest of us want to keep going.

Here is a post I wrote with more of my hiking with kids tips.

5.16littlest-01How much water did you carry for your hikes? It depends on the length of the hike and the heat. For 1-2 mile hikes, we usually packed one water bottle per person. For longer hikes, we packed 2 water bottles per person. We have our own water bottles that are bigger than the typical plastic water bottle size. The backpacks got pretty heavy with the water. I would like get everyone a hydration pack that we can insert into their backpacks.

I see you wearing sandals – are they hiking sandals? Do you recommend them? On that particular hike, we brought one backpack with everyone’s flip flops because we scoped the trail out the night before. The trail had so much water and sand, my boys preferred to hike in their flip flops (we basically wear them all year, so it is not a shocker). The girls went back and forth between their tennis shoes and flip flops. Water hiking shoes would work best, but my kids don’t have any. I wore my high school Tevas – perfect.

4.16Moab-14How do you hike with your camera? I use a small Tamrac camera backpack. I’ve used this backpack for about 8 years…on so many hikes and adventures. It can hold my camera body and 3 lenses (or 2 lenses and a flash). The boys always wanted to carry the hiking backpacks, so I was able to carry my camera one on every hike. Typically, I just hike with my camera in my hand. I don’t like neck straps. Obviously, this is not a good option for many people. If a trail got difficult, I would just put the camera in my backpack until I was sure footed again. After carrying the hiking backpacks with water and snacks for so many years, my camera bag feels like nothing!

ashhikeWhat lens did you used? I used my 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm for our trip. I carry the three lenses and my camera body in the small camera backpack. I hardly ever use my 28mm at home, but it is my primary lens when traveling in scenic locations. When I wanted portraits of the kids, I pulled out my 85mm. I did not use my 50mm very often.

What is your aperture for scenic shots? Goodness, it just depended on what I wanted. I shot around f/5.6 many times, but often opted back to my favorite f/2.8 to make the foreground pop out. Since I was using my 28mm lens, the f/2.8 setting worked totally differently than with my 50mm or my 85mm. These were both shot at f/2.8. The first one I used my 28mm lens and focused on Chris (far left). The second one I used my 85mm lens and focused on my daughter.

4.16GrandCanyon-044.16GrandCanyon-16Did you use any special filters for your camera? Nope.

Did you take your mirror-less camera? No. I have a hard time using my mirror-less when photographing my kids. They move faster than I can change the settings. If was not capturing them, then my mirror-less would have been really fun to use on this trip.

Were the parks empty or how did you keep all the crowds out of your shots? I was asked this several times and it prompted me to write a SnapShop lesson on the topic. The parks were not empty. Some were full of people and then there were a few hikes we were all alone. SnapShop is my subscription-based photography website. It includes two core courses (basics of DSLR & phone photography). Additional lessons are added each month. You can read my lesson on how to avoid crowds in your personal family photos on the SnapShop site.

Today and tomorrow you can use the code NOCROWD for $10 off your SnapShop registration.

5.16Crowd-075.16Crowd-08Below are links to each of the posts related to our Arizona and Utah trip. You can find more travel related posts on the Travel Page.

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  • Rachel Newswanger - Thank you Ashley! My 4th grader & I just filled out the info & printed our pass. How fun! Summer here we come…

  • Amy B - This is such a great post, Ashley! My husband and I don’t have kids (yet), but this had so much great info for all types of families and travelers. Now, if I could just talk my husband into an RV/trailer so we could hit the road! He used to deliver trucks for his family’s business years ago, so he doesn’t get real excited about long distance road trips, lol :)

    I hope you don’t mind if I suggest something— For those who aren’t comfortable carrying their camera in hand, I highly recommend straps from Black Rapid. I’ve had my cross-body Metro strap for several years and it’s perfect for just about all outdoor activities. It keeps my camera close at my side so I can quickly grab it to shoot, but hands-free and out of the way (and the weight off my neck) while moving. I use it on all our shorter day hikes (while my husband carries the Camelbak or daypack), but now that they have a strap that connects directly to a backpack, I’m planning on getting one of those as well for longer hikes.

  • AshleyAnn - Thanks for that suggestion Amy!!

  • Sarah - Yay! Thank you for answering all of these questions!

  • Diana - I absolutely loved reading this and all your travel posts! My family camped most of my childhood too, because with 6 of us it was the cheapest way to travel and see a lot. Your posts so remind me of those happy trips from my childhood, just with a pop-up camper and one more kid. Really hope we can do the same when our son is a little bigger! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  • Kelly - Thanks for taking the time to share all of this with us! One thing that we have found hiking with our kids is that at least for ours they prefer as much climbing as possible in a hike. So actually the steeper it is the more motivating it is to them. If a hike is flat my son sits down in the middle of the trail and starts digging in the dirt! :) Kelly

  • Carrie - Great post! All of your travels are really inspiring me to go hiking :) It was fun to follow along and now have all of this info – looks like a memorable trip!

  • Becca - Thanks for all the info! This has been so very helpful. Can’t wait to make our trip!

  • Tracy R. - I am embarrassed to say that we have never camped (married 22 years with teenagers in the house) and it has always been a dream of mine that I hope to make come true. So, I really love the meat and details of your post. Thank you for taking the time to do so!

  • Jenny - Wonderful suggestions for travel with kids. I noticed that you brought your dog along. Just wondering if you might share some ideas or experiences with traveling with a dog. Especially like what do you do with them when they can’t go to certain places that people can go to.

  • Jenn - thank you for this post. it was great to read after seeing all your posts through out your trip. great advice. excited to look into those sunglasses

  • Emily - This is such an encouraging post! My kids are 7,5,3 and 6 months and we’re still in the “don’t get so close to the edge”, lots of stops, baby-in-the-ergo adventure mode, even when we do just smaller hikes around town. It’s fun to see what we have to look forward to in a few years:) Thanks for the great info!

  • Byron - Wait! You missed the most important question: how do I pass myself off as a 4th grader so I can get one of those nifty Park Passes?!? 😉

  • Jenny B. - This post has a wealth of information! Makes me want to go on a hike, and I don’t even really like to hike. My husband and oldest son do, though. I don’t like camera straps either, so I’m glad to see you just carrying it in your hand (I’m not the only one!). :) Thanks for all the info!

  • Leticia Carlson - Thank you for sharing all this info. We are driving this summer from Houston to Durango, CO. I have made a few notes here and there and must say that TripAdvisor has been the best. This was an awesome post, thanks for sharing!!!

  • Megan Shannon - This is great! We are currently renovating an Airstream with plans to do big trips to National Parks with our kiddos. Great post with awesome tips. It is definitely keeping me motivated while renovations seem to be u ending!