It was quieter here on the blog last week. Last week was full. To say the least.

My nephew was born!!! I am so smitten with him. Smitten.

It was my birthday.

It was also the final week of SnapShops, which meant lots of computer time answering questions and providing feedback on pictures.

Also….we are doing that kitchen update. There are no clean or quiet corners in my house. I worked on SnapShops on the front porch. It was the only quiet spot I could find.

And I snuck in lots of cuddles with my nephew. Okay, not lots, but some. My 3 year old niece can’t handle sharing him.

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This week I am hosting another Embrace the Camera week with my friend Emily. Basically, Embrace the Camera is the idea that a lot of us hide from the camera for reasons like we don’t like how we look or we feel awkward or whatever. BUT when we look at pictures of those we love, we see them – not their flaws. I want my kids to have pictures of me from their childhood. I love looking back at pictures of my parents and grandparents from years past. I want my kids to have that too.

To begin the week, I thought I would share a short excerpt from my SnapShop class. Below is a small section from one lesson. It goes over tips for getting in front of the camera and practical ways you can do just that!


There are a couple of ways I achieve getting in the shot with those I love…of just in a shot in general.

SOMEONE ELSE: I either put my camera on full Auto or I get all the settings how I want and then ask someone to take the shot. I also try to be very descriptive of what exactly I have in mind. Poor Chris. (I also do this with my older kids)

PHONE: This is often the easiest, but phone quality does not compare to most DSLRs. I am really trying to do a better job of using my DSLR more and phone less for shots that include me.

TIMER: When taking shots with my DSLR, I set the camera where I want it and then focus where I am going to be in the shot. Once I take a few practice shots to make sure the settings look good, I turn on the timer. Then I focus again and press all the way down to start the timer. Then I step into the shot in the area that I focused.

The “X” is where I focused, adjusting the settings, and then activated the timer before stepping into the shot.

I used the same concept for the following pictures…set things up, used the timer and then jumped in the shots.
Next, I few more examples and what methods I used:

3.16embrace-3(pp_w744_h744)Top row:

  1. I found the angle I wanted and then did my best to describe what I wanted to a friend. She was using my iPhone and I had her stand in the spot I wanted and told her not to zoom. This could be misunderstood for being very bossy, but I did it with a nice voice!
  2. I used a Belkin remote & my iPhone for this shot (but the camera app with the remote does not work well in low light, I’m not a big fan of it)
  3. I had my daughter stand still and I walked across the sand from her. I propped my iPhone against my jacket and set the shot up how I wanted. Then I used the timer on the Camera+ app. I set the timer and ran over to her to start spinning. I got lucky that she was right over the sun when the timer went off.

Middle row:

  1. This was a dslr shot. I set the camera on a ladder across the room. I took a few shots of Chris while I was getting the settings and focus where I wanted. Then I set the timer and stepped into the shot with him.
  2. I handed my phone to my oldest son and told him to take a picture that included the bottom of my boots and both of the chickens legs. I find if I can give my kids exact places to crop, they usually do a great job of following those kind of directions.
  3. Chris took this with his iPhone.

Bottom row:

  1. The boys piled on top of me and I stretched my arm out with my phone as far as I could. I used the back facing camera so we could see if we were all in the shot.
  2. Chris took this with his iPhone.
  3. I held my phone out and tried to keep the arm that held the phone out of the shot.

In October 2009, I came across the story of Aleida Frankin. On August 6, 2008 she wrote a blog post with pictures of her and her daughter.

In the post, she wrote, “There is a reason why I’m posting these pictures.  Pictures that I’m actually in.  Not because I think I’m all that and a trip to Hollywood.  No.  It’s because I’m actually tired of being worried about how I look and not taking or having very many photos of me with my children.  I have very few pictures of me and my babies when they were babies, and I have myself to blame.  Precious opportunities to capture on paper, lost because of my silliness.  Well no more I say!  One day I won’t be here and there will be hardly any pictures of them and their mama.  So ladies, hand over the camera and get in those photos!  Please.  You’ll be happier you did.”

One month later her life was suddenly cut short by a driver who ran a red light.

Such a powerful and heartbreaking story. Aleida has left a legacy behind for so many. Her life has challenged moms across the globe to get in front of their cameras. Her words challenged me back in 2009 and have shaped my perspective of being in front of the camera and not just behind it.

Here are few more examples that were taken primarily with my phone:

3.15mom copy

I’ll be sharing my photos each day this week on Instagram (they will also pop up on the sidebar of my blog). You can find me at @underthesycamore, you can find Emily at @theandersoncrew If you participate, use the hashtag #embracethecamera, so we can see your photos (if your account is public). Now, go embrace the camera!


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  • Southern Gal - I try to do this a little more. My mama used to avoid the camera like the plague when I was young and into my teen years because she didn’t like her teeth. We have very few shots of her or daddy during that time. I was following in her steps for a while then realized my kids would want to see me some, too!

    Quick question. Do you use your DSLR shots for instagram? My phone shots are usually hideous in low light.

  • Tanya - Thanks for posting this. It’s too important. I’m crying over Aleida Frankin, but thankful today I still have the option. I WILL be in pictures today!

    Congrats on that cute little nephew!

    Happy birthday!

    Yay on wrapping on SnapShops! I’m so glad I was able to take that course. Thank you. :)

  • Raimie Harrison - Dear Ashley,
    Thank you for the reminder and the tips! This inspires me and I’ll think about this this week!! Xoxo love, Raimie Lu

  • Madeleine - Thank you so much this is so helpful and you’ve explained it so well. :)

  • Brandi - I am completely determined to get into my own Christmas card this year. I don’t know that I’ll make it happen, but I’m going to try. And a shot with my hubby…the one of you and Chris in the water, so so good. Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

  • Rebekah - Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your tips and Aleida’s story! My dad died when I was younger and though I have pictures of and with him, I wished I had more. I think the loss of my dad is why I am so passionate about capturing memories with my camera but I have to admit that I am much more comfortable behind it than in front of it. Usually because I am self conscious if how I look but I am trying to get over it and get in more pictures with my kids and husband. Love your blog!

  • Maureen - All this joy! What a host of inspiration to get in the pictures.
    Thank you

  • iamcart - Thank you so much for this tutorial, can’t wait to get started!!

  • Emily - We had no wifi when you posted this (moving house…my brain is fried) so I missed this, but I’m going to make a point this week and get in the shot more. I try to anyway, so a bit of a push to share them is always welcome! Thanks for the reminder!

10.15teatowel-01I have fabric tucked away to sew fabric napkins. It has been tucked away for 2 years. We were in need of something other than paper towels and paper napkins – too much trash for a family our size. Bandannas were on sale at Hobby Lobby…nearly perfect for napkins. The only downside was the BRIGHT colors. A bit too bright for me, but bleach makes for an easy fix.10.15teatowel-02A little bleach, a little hot water…a quick soak.10.15teatowel-0410.15teatowel-0610.15teatowel-07Easy to fold. Easy to wash. I just fold them after they come out of the dryer. They are a bit wrinkly, but we don’t mind. I can always iron them for company if I wanted to…but that probably won’t happen. I’ve been watching for the bandannas to go on sale again. I figure I can stock pile a drawer full and we are good to go for a few days or when company is visiting.

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  • Stacey - Those white IKEA towels with the red stripe – make great napkins too. I dyed our towels to hide food stains. I like the idea of using bandannas too!

  • Kara - I use thrifted napkins daily, and big IKEA tea towels for my messy little ones. We haven’t used paper napkins in years, and honestly don’t ever miss them!

  • Melissa - Really cute idea, cowboy/girl hoe-down optional!

  • Shan - Love this idea. You could even sew several together for a cute matching runner/tablecloth!!

  • Sandy C - I always pass by these bandanas because of the primary color bonanza! I’m so surprised at the dreamy hues that came out of bleaching them. Then again, I’m pretty dangerous with bleach, I may enlist a friend and try to make some of these. Thanks for the idea!! :)

  • Abby - Perfect! I’ve heard that bandanas make great napkins, but I didn’t like the bright colors either. This project is now added to my to-do list!

  • Tammy Henderson - What a great idea. Oh, and congratulations! I noticed your little nephew has arrived. So sweet! I’ll bet the boys (and girls) are ecstatic.

  • cara - i love this idea! i’m going to use it. thanks for posting

  • Susan - Great idea! And you could color code them for a family! I hope you are enjoying a lovely fall in Oklahoma!

  • Deb @ PaperTurtle - Ah! I LOVE that you bleached them to get that faded look. I totally want to do this. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Carrie - So cute! I like the toned down colors better too.

  • Amy - I was just telling my husband I wanted to do this! SO many fun colors! Rie Drummand uses then as napkins too! Love embracing my inner Pioneer Woman!

  • MC - This is a great idea! Thank you for sharing!

  • Raimie - Dear Ashley, Thank you for this! I was just looking at the variety of mismatched cloth napkins I have picked up over the years in our effort to sve on paper napkins. They are looking rather sad and forlorn. This is a grand plan to replace the saddest ones with something fun! xoxo

  • Amanda - You’re a genius. I looked for reusable napkins a while ago because we go through so many! They are so expensive but this idea is great!

  • Emily - I’m not sure how much a bandana is a piece, but I always keep an eye out for seasonal cloth napkins at Target. Usually can get them for at least 50%, a pack of 4 for about $2 if I remember correctly. I bought some pretty spring ones after easter last year (they were just striped with bright colors). Although the bandana idea is genius!

  • dena - awesome idea

  • Emily - Love it! My entire life I’ve never understood paper napkins — they’re thin and you go through a ton. I hadn’t thought of using bandanas, though…hm…

  • Gail - An idea that has worked for me for extending the use of your napkins between washes is to have a unique napkin ring for each person at the table. You don’t mind re-using a cloth napkin for muultiple occasions when its your mess!

  • Christine - Fantastic idea! I love the bleaching aspect. I hadn’t thought of it, but it dulls the colors beautifully.

  • Jenny B. - Ok, first of all, I thought the title said banana napkins. And then when I saw the bandannas, I still didn’t figure it out, and I was thinking, did the bananas come wrapped in bandannas? Oh my. I must need more sleep. Or coffee. Or maybe both. :) I love how they look after you bleached them! I never would’ve thought to do that. The yellow one is especially cool how the black (I think it was black before?) turned brown. Much better! Our kids usually use their clothing (or their hair), and their napkins stay untouched, so we could probably use cloth napkins for more than one meal. 😉

  • mindy taylor - I need these napkins in my life so bad. I too have had fabric sitting for a LONG time to make napkins and just never find the time. I LOVE bandanas..Can you give me an idea of how much bleach to use and how long to soak. Thanks so much!!

We finally finished our outdoor tables! These were a long time in the dreaming/making. We eat most meals outside, except in winter when I am in hibernation. As a family we outgrew our picnic table. When we have friends over, we would eat in shifts. I longed for long tables to fit friends and family around all at one time – tables wide enough to hold plates and all the food in the center too.

While I was away one weekend, Chris took it upon himself to start building me tables. He didn’t have a set design, just a general idea of what I wanted and a goal to use up as much scrap wood as possible. They came out perfectly.

10.15outdoortables-01I showed him this picture from Pretty Pastel Style as the look I was wanting. He took that general idea and ran with it.10.15outdoortables-04The kids all helped and you can see some of the wood was really rough. We knew we would be painting it.10.15outdoortables-05We bought new boards for the tops of the tables and benches.10.15outdoortables-0710.15outdoortables-08One of the biggest concerns (on my part) was what paint to use. I didn’t want to stain the tables because – you know – I like white. The tables will be outside under the elements all year round. The weather elements are nothing compared to the 5 kids. We are not easy on furniture. I decided to use Dutch Boy Porch & Floor paint. My thought is if it is durable enough to cover a porch or floor, it might stand a chance against my crew. I opted for white gloss. Gloss is the easiest to clean. I think a matte or satin finish would be beautiful, but it would never last around my house. I need to be able to clean the tables easily! I also choose to brush the paint on to get in all the cracks. A small roller would work for parts of the table too.10.15outdoortables-0910.15outdoortables-11Slowly this little space is coming together. Next up I want to paint the concrete. It won’t be white, maybe a gray. I think it will make the whole space look clean and tidy…at least every now and then.10.15outdoortables-1210.15outdoortables-13The tables look pretty for a portion of the day. The rest of the time they are beautiful in a different, functional way.10.15outdoortables-1510.15outdoortables-16So many friends and family have gathered around the tables even before they were finished. Lunches. Dinners. Lots of pancakes with lots of little people. It is my favorite place to linger….except at high noon. I did not think about how bright white glossy tables are when the sun is directly shining down on them! Sunglasses at lunch!:)

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  • Ashley - LOVE LOVE LOVE these Ashley!!!!

  • Gill - I love how dirty your boys feet are!! xxx

  • Tanya - BEAUTIFUL!

  • Jess - Ashley, I love the thought and purpose behind your project. So beautiful, in every way.

  • Debbie C - This is so dreamy! Love it!

  • Brittany M - Love the way your outdoor space is coming together! Mine is on a long list of things for my new house. Also LOVING looking at your photos now that our SnapShop is almost completed and I can attempt to guess at your settings and notice all the beautiful composition!

  • Tammy Henderson - Love how these came out. I suggest just tossing an old sheet or table cloth on at high noon to help with the glare. :o)

  • Victoria / Justice Pirate - Since I was a child watching The Waltons, I’ve loved the idea of bench tables for families in general. It seems more cozy and wonderful. This is really well built! Looks great! I like that the whole family was involved in making it too.

  • Ranee - Love this…they are beautiful!

  • Kara M - Is it bad to email the link to my husband with a “THIS…this is what I want!” ???

  • kimberly oyler - can i rent out your patio for my birthday? haha just kidding…. but am i? so pretty!

  • Jamie - Beautiful! We have outgrown our picnic table as well. Someone usually has to stand and the baby sits in her little chair. I would love to have something just like this! Too cool.

  • Emily - I love it! Maybe get some umbrellas or shade sails you can unfurl at high noon to stave off the glare. Or pull out pretty tablecloths!

  • Marilyn D. - What is the saw that is in this post? Love each and every post!!!

  • Diana - Those are awesome!! All that painting! And I love the lights. Still trying to convince my husband we need those!

  • Jenny - super fun to have all that outdoor seating. we have 5 kiddos too plus a bunch of student min kids hanging around! appreciate the stages of tables pics :)

  • jenn - these are beautiful
    i am wanting some tables for out back yard. missed out on the picnic one that i wanted but on well. hopefully will get a good one soon. love your area. so pretty

  • Heather - Just beautiful!!

  • Emily - This is beautiful! But the comment of painting the concrete gray made me chuckle a little :) Isn’t it already?!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Looks great!! I know so many happy times will happen there!

  • Courtney - They are beautiful! What a great way to gather everybody around the table outside to eat. I love it.

  • Byron - Once again, I am amazed at how creative you and Chris are! Fantastic addition to your wonderful home. God bless!

  • AshleyAnn - Byron – you need to come back over and join us for dinner!

  • Carrie Rowe - I love these! But even more I love your heart of wanting to have people over. so special.

  • Natalie - I love everything about this table!!! Great job!