Hiking My Way Retreat

At the end of March, I had the privilege of attending a retreat in southern Utah with more than a dozen really fantastic women. My friend Shanti is quite literally, a force of nature. She has a natural talent for bringing people together and does it in the most wonderful ways. She’s a writer for REI and Outside Magazine and the founder of Hike it Baby and Family Forest Fest and last year she published Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Adventures with Babies and Toddlers. One of her recent projects has been her Hiking My Way Retreats. Twice a year she hosts women for a long weekend of hiking, exploration, running, yoga, and reflection. For the last few retreats, she’s had The Mirnavator, Mirna Valerio, as a co-host.

We explored trails around southern Utah, mainly close to Zion National Park. I enjoyed taking lots of photos, but we were lucky to have Arika Bauer with us on a few hikes too. She’s an amazing photographer and if you find yourself in southern Utah, consider reaching out to her for family photos. If anything, check out her website for amazing tips on hiking at Zion National Park and the surrounding areas.

Here are the trails we explored:

Timber Creek Overlook Trail, Kolob Canyons - This trail is north of Zion National Park, just off of I-15. We’ve driven past the exit many times, me wanting to stop and explore, but alas, with my kids, sometimes it’s better to just stay in the car and get home. This trail is short and a climb, but it’s absolutely gorgeous, especially at sunset. The clouds hung low and clung to the steep, red cliffs. The trail was extremely muddy when we hiked because of recent rain, muddy enough that I wished I’d brought my trekking poles. I almost wiped out a couple of times coming back down in the near-dark, my iPhone as my flashlight. It was an absolutely stunning hike and I cannot wait to bring my kids.

Photo by Zion Adventure Photog, Arika Bauer

Photo by Zion Adventure Photog, Arika Bauer

Image by Zion Adventure Photog, Arika Bauer

Image by Zion Adventure Photog, Arika Bauer

West Cinder Knoll - This trail is popular with mountain biking because it’s open and mostly flat. We did climb up to the Cinder Knoll itself and we had a beautiful sunset view of the contrasting red rocks and the snowy mountains in the distance. It was a beautiful end to a really fun day.

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What a gorgeous trail!

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Beautiful woman and a beautiful landscape.

Beautiful woman and a beautiful landscape.

Red Reef Trail, Red Cliffs National Recreation Area - I was lucky enough to explore this trail with Shanti last year. It’s truly a hidden gem, although it’s not all that hidden anymore and was quite crowded on the Saturday we went. Because of all the snow and rain we’ve had this past winter, there was twice as much water in the creek as there was last year. The trail has lots of space to play in the creek, little waterfalls, and as it narrows into a slot canyon, there’s a fun spot where you can climb up and over a waterfall.

Image by Zion Adventure Photog, Arika Bauer

Image by Zion Adventure Photog, Arika Bauer

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We climbed up into that big cave to stop and have a snack. We had a lovely view looking out over the creek and there was even a pictograph on the wall!

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Snow Canyon State Park - Snow Canyon was a wonderful surprise (I’d never been!) and I cannot wait to bring my family there. It’s a state park just outside of St. George. It features petrified sand dunes that my kids will love to climb. Jenny’s Canyon is a fun and short slot canyon. We practiced yoga on the sand dunes at sunset and it was really beautiful.

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Gould’s Wash, aka Molly’s Nipple Trail - This one is another popular mountain biking trail and features a little mountain formation that is called Molly’s Nipple. Some opted to jog on this trail and the rest of us enjoyed a peaceful walk.

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Grafton Ghost Town, Grafton Gap Trail - Grafton is a historic Mormon town that resides along the Virgin River, just down the road from the entrance to Zion National Park. It was abandoned in the late 1800s and a few buildings still stand. You can explore inside a couple of the buildings too, but first we hiked a mountain bike trail that climbs up a mesa and it gave us an amazing, panoramic view of the area.

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Florence Williams talking about how important smell is when we spend time outside. The trail was lined with wild sage and it smelled lovely. I’m currently reading her book, The Nature Fix and loving it!

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Shanti told us that this little cliff is called the Grafton Gap and mountain bikers try to gain enough speed to jump over it.

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The town of Grafton from the trail we climbed. I can see our van from here!!

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Confluence Trail, Virgin River - This trail was really close to the AirBnB houses where we stayed in La Verkin. The trail meanders past a golf course down to the Virgin River and then you can just explore the area from there. We tried to get there closer to sunrise than later and it was quiet and peaceful with no other hikers. We saw a few desert wildflowers too.

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On our last night, we were all gifted this bracelet engraved with “Hiking My Way - Slow AF.”

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All in all I had a wonderful time and I really hope I can get the pleasure of attending one of these retreats again some day. It was amazing meeting every one of the wonderful women there. Thank you so much Mirna and Shanti!

What's in My Pack?

Not at all art-related, but I’m an avid hiker and I love to explore the trails around where I live in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond. We just got home from spending a weekend at the Devil’s Garden Campground at Arches National Park with eleven other families and we had a blast exploring trails, arches, climbing boulders, and eating really well. A few weeks before that trip, I got to spend five days in the Zion area of southern Utah with a group of amazing women where we hiked and explored a bunch of really fantastic trails.

Image by Arika Bauer - Zion Adventure Photog

Image by Arika Bauer - Zion Adventure Photog

Spending time with other hikers ALWAYS results in us “shopping” through each other’s clothing and gear. We are always on the lookout for items that make the experience easier or more comfortable for us. This is even more helpful when we’re hiking with our kids. Sometimes there are little items that you don’t even realize could be useful to you until you see another hiker rocking them.

This post has LOTS of affiliate links. You are under no obligation to shop through these links, but they do help keep my business going and it’s very much appreciated.

In My Pack

  • Deuter Speed Lite 22 Backpack (it’s probably bigger than I really need for most of my hikes, but it’s comfy and it’s sometimes nice to be able to throw in something extra).

  • Peak Design CapturePRO Camera Clip (attached to the shoulder strap, gives me the security and confidence to bring my DSLR on trail, this clip also fits on baby carrier straps or a standard belt)

  • Canon 50mm f1.4 lens, Canon 18-135mm f3.5 lens, Canon 70D DSLR, and a zipper pouch with spare batteries (obviously the camera and bigger lens were used to take this photo. This camera has been so good to me in the years I’ve had it. Eventually I would love a 24-70mm lens… someday)

  • Matador Mini Pocket Blanket or Wenzel Mini Blanket (downright handy to have, the Wenzel blanket is waterproof too)

  • Adventure Medical First Aid Kit (FYI, these have the BEST tweezers for removing tiny splinters)

  • Black Diamond Carbon Z Trekking Poles (they fold down nice and small, small enough to fit in the water bottle pocket of my backpack. When opened, they are too tall for my kids to use, I did that on purpose! For poles my kids can use, I have Cascade Mountain Tech poles from Costco)

  • Deuter Zip Pack Lite 2 - My Period Go-Bag (contains a few pads, tampons, wet wipes, and a pair of Thinx undies, useful for when I hike with any women)

  • LifeStraw (I’ve never had to use it, but I still bring it, just in case)

  • Fifty/Fifty or Hydroflask Water Bottle (size varies on the length of the hike, for long hikes, I’ll use a 2L or 3L Camelbak Water Bladder)

  • Travel bottle of sunscreen (current fav for my face/body is Super Goop and Alba Botanica for my kids)

  • Deuter Dirt Bag (In cahoots with the Leave No Trace initiative, Deuter made these waterproof, reusable bags designed to hold trash you find on trail. Donate to LNT and you get one of these bags for free.)

  • Lots of hair rubber bands

  • Bottle of useful medicines, usually Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Excedrin Migraine, and Zyrtec.

  • Nite-Ize Flashlight Keychain (damned handy, I keep one on my keys too)

  • Bag of random snacks, varies on the day, but usually contains fruit snacks, fruit leather, random trail bars, string cheese, and sometimes candy… because I’m all for bribery. I also like bringing cheese, salami and nuts for myself)

  • My own business cards and Hike it Baby stickers

  • Random carabiners, the non-climbing variety (handy for clipping random stuff to my pack, like a child’s backpack when said child can no longer carry their own)

  • Glow sticks or bracelets (usually purchased from the dollar section at Target, they’ve saved me from many-a-meltdown)

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Footwear
I hiked the summer of 2016 in running shoes and after rolling my ankle on trail twice, I reached out to my brother (a shoe buyer for a big retail company) and asked for suggestions on hiking boots and trail running shoes. I hated the way hi-top hiking boots rubbed my ankles when I was a teen, but my brother convinced me to give them a try again. Merrell and Ahnu are really the brands that seem to fit my slightly-wide feet and pronating ankles, AND come in sizes larger than a woman’s 10. Ahnu was bought by Teva a while back, so the models I have may be found under Teva now.

When one mom finds a great pair of shoes, others follow suit!

When one mom finds a great pair of shoes, others follow suit!

Apparel
I rarely wear leggings on trail anymore, favoring breathable pants that have real pockets instead. The biggest selling points for me are great pockets, lots of stretch, and LONG enough. I’d also like them to be available in my size, which isn’t a single digit number. I have a hard time supporting companies that stop at a size 12 or 14, when I personally know PLENTY of amazing women who are bigger than a 14 who love to hike. I don’t think I’m asking too much.

When it comes to tops, I buy whatever I can find that fits. I’m not loyal to any one brand. Sometimes I find athletic or running shirts from Target, Costco, Sierra Trading Post, or our local outlet stores. Some of my favorite shirts, tanks, and pullovers are from Champion/Target, Columbia, and Under Armour. These are my favorite bits of clothing for hiking that are worth singling out:

  • 5.11 Women’s Mesa Pants (I love these pants SO much, they come in Long, have lots of stretch, a real waistband that can handle a belt if needed, and wonderful, deep pockets. They have pockets on the hips that can hold my phone and allow me to sit comfortably. I wear them all the time, even not hiking.)

  • Columbia Women’s Saturday Trail Stretch Pants (very comfortable with lots of stretch, my only complaint is they aren’t easy to find in the Long length and Regular is about 2-3 inches too short on me, so I wear them as capris until I can find the long ones at my local store)

  • Merrell AlphaTherm Mid-Layer Fleece (lightweight, warmer than it lets on by feel)

  • Lolë Packable Down Jacket (not as pricey a other brands, it packs down small, includes a cinch bag)

Other Accessories, Sometimes Weather-Specific - Random other stuff that I only sometimes carry that also isn’t apparel or shoes, this stuff is sometimes seasonal.

  • RoShamBo Baby Sunglasses (designed for kids but also made in adult sizes, so they’re kinda indestructible, which means I can cram them into a pants pocket or my backpack without worrying that they’ll get damaged, and they’re only $35 with polarized lenses)

  • AlaskiWear Hooded Scarf (warm and snuggly without giving me hat hair, I love them so much, I have two)

  • Fingerless Gloves (handy for when it’s cold but I still need dexterity to take photos or tie kid shoelaces, these are handmade by my aunt, but you can find plenty online)

  • Kahtoola MICROSpikes (handy for hiking in the snow or on ice. I also own YakTrax that work well and are WAY less expensive than Kahtoola, but they sometimes slide off my boots. If you opt for YakTrax, spend the couple extra bucks to get the YakTrax Pro with a strap that goes over the boots)

  • Sunday Afternoons or whatever trucker hat is actually in my car and my oldest hasn’t stolen (I’m on the lookout for a proper wide-brim actually looks decent on me)

  • Art Toolkit (this thing is freaking awesome for the rare times I can sit in one spot and paint, everything you’d need has been well thought-out)

  • Way 2 Cool Mesh Cooling Towels (handy in the summer, especially on hikes with no shade, just get it a little wet and it stays cool on your skin)

  • Líllébaby CarryOn Toddler Carrier (if I have room in my pack, I may bring it if I think my son will need a ride, we’re almost to the point where I won’t be carrying him anymore… almost)

  • Onya Baby Pure Baby Carrier (always in my car in case another parent needs it or if I am volunteering to wear someone’s baby. I actually prefer the fit of the Onya Baby Outback carrier, plus it has a big pocket and a hood, but the Pure is what I currently have)

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That’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure as I do more hiking and camping this spring and summer, I may add more.

Are you a hiker, what items are essential for when you go hiking?

Still-Life Painting and Stress-Relief

My grandma’s silver champagne bucket; this was a homework assignment. Still kicking myself for not getting an actual bottle of champagne. I would’ve enjoyed sharing it with Grandma.

My grandma’s silver champagne bucket; this was a homework assignment. Still kicking myself for not getting an actual bottle of champagne. I would’ve enjoyed sharing it with Grandma.

When I was in college, even though I was majoring in animation (yeah, that changed), a still-life painting class was a required course in my first year. It met once a week for six hours and before it even started, I dreaded it. I loved painting landscapes, but I’d never painted a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers. The idea seemed daunting to my twenty-something self and I had zero interest in a subject matter that I considered boring.

Little did I know that still-life painting class would turn out to be one of my favorite classes ever. Not only did I learn more about what makes good composition and how to use light and color in different ways, but I also learned how to paint reflective surfaces, how to paint transparent glass, how to paint folds in fabric, and how to really handle oil paints (I’d only ever painted with acrylics). But mostly, it was just a fun class. We’d crank up some music (usually Pink Floyd or Bjork) and just paint. That class became a source of stress-relief when other classes, a long commute, and work had me frazzled and feeling overwhelmed.

My second or third attempt at painting wine glasses. I loved how they turned out but didn’t love the pink fabric. I’m pretty sure this painting is sitting in a box somewhere in my house.

My second or third attempt at painting wine glasses. I loved how they turned out but didn’t love the pink fabric. I’m pretty sure this painting is sitting in a box somewhere in my house.

A couple of canvases went to my grandma (whom I lived with when finishing college and would often call dibs on canvases before I was even finished with them), one painting of fruit and a silver kettle went to my future-mother-in-law (I should take a photo of it), and I even managed to sell two 5x7 canvases from my job at a picture framing store.

One of the 5x7 paintings I actually sold, eggplant, Bosch pear, and grapes in an extravagant frame. Sometimes it was fun to get to play with scrap pieces of moulding.

One of the 5x7 paintings I actually sold, eggplant, Bosch pear, and grapes in an extravagant frame. Sometimes it was fun to get to play with scrap pieces of moulding.

The other little canvas I sold, this one was my favorite with the little silver pitcher and pomegranate. I’m a little sad I don’t have them anymore, or at least have a higher quality photo, but I needed the money at the time.

The other little canvas I sold, this one was my favorite with the little silver pitcher and pomegranate. I’m a little sad I don’t have them anymore, or at least have a higher quality photo, but I needed the money at the time.

Quite a few canvases were garbage too and I will eventually paint over them, or let my son paint over them. But this painting was my favorite with the copper kettle and brass bowl. It currently sits on my dresser and though I don’t love the frame, looking at it brings me back to that still-life class and the peace it brought me each week.

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It’s been probably fifteen years since I painted with oils and the idea of starting up again with small children just seemed daunting. My 3rd grader has recently shown some interest, so I ordered some student-grade oil paints. Thankfully, I have a few unfinished canvases that we can doodle on and we’ll see what sparks us to put on canvas.

School Valentines, 2016-2019

We don’t do much to celebrate Valentine’s Day in our family. It’s just not a holiday we celebrate; even back when my husband and I were dating.

With our boys in school now, Valentine’s Day is back on our radar and every year I fully expect my boys to want store-bought, character valentines. It’s been a few years now and they’ve surprised me with wanting something custom-made by their mom. I’m not sure whether to feel used or that I set myself up for it.

The year my oldest was in kindergarten, we missed his party because he only attended school three days a week, and the Valentine’s Day party fell on a day he didn’t attend. I thought I was off the hook with valentines until he went back to school after the weekend and a box of Valentines and treats was waiting for him from his classmates. I felt like a stellar parent.

The next year I knew he would have been happy with character Valentines from Target, but I wanted to do something fun and non-edible since there were a couple of kids in his class with scary allergies. We already had a bunch of bacon bandaids, so I made this little card and printed them onto card stock, then added the bandaid with double-sided tape.

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The following year, my oldest set his expectations high with something fun again and considering the sheer amount of candy he got the year before, I wanted to try and avoid food again. So we went with hand warmers! I took his photo and played with it in an iPhone app called PicsArt. Then I added the background and text in Adobe Illustrator. We stuffed the card and a hand warmer into a some 4-bar envelopes I had left over from a baby shower and done!

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Last year (2018), both kids were now in school and my oldest wanted to use PicsArt again to make some fun photos. I asked both boys to put on a red shirt and they chose the same Manchester United jersey. Then we made their cards with PicsArt, a little Illustrator, and we taped mechanical pencils and Dove chocolate hearts to their cards.

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This year, I was feeling very meh about Valentine’s Day and was all set to hit up Walmart and see what boxed valentines they had left 3 days before their school parties. Then my oldest asked what fun Valentines we were going to make this year and if we could go look on Pinterest for ideas. I couldn’t say no. We searched for non-candy valentines and saw a couple of baggies of Goldfish crackers with a fun, fishing-themed greeting. That was the winner! My boys (especially my oldest) are WAY into fishing right now.

Here’s what we made:

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We already had a box of Ziplock snack-size baggies that we weren’t using much (they’re so small!), so we bought a few big boxes of Goldfish Crackers filled enough for both classes. Then I took photos of each of my kids in good light and re-drew them in Adobe Illustrator, added the cartoon-y fisherman bodies, a less-then-thrilled fish, and Voile! The “Hooked on You” graphic is on one side and the “Fishing you…” graphic is on the other. The only difference is the names and different heads, of course.

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I saved some time (because I created these 2 days before the parties) and had everything printed onto 8.5x11 card stock at my local Office Depot. I trimmed the pages, scored, and then stapled them onto the baggies that my boys filled. I really love how they turned out…. so much that I may add them to my Etsy shop next year that others can customize.

I know there are only a few years where we’ll get to make Valentines for school. I’m pretty sure they stop around middle school. Whether you celebrate or not, have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hike it Baby Artist Series Stickers

I started doing design work for Hike it Baby a little more than a year ago, and it’s been SO much fun to create whatever I can for them.

Every year they host hiking challenges that encourage families to get outside with their kids. Up until 2018, they had quarterly challenges in January, April, September, and November, and the goal is to hike 30 miles in 30 days or spend 30 minutes outside three times each week. Participants can log their miles or time on the Hike it Baby website, they’re entered into drawings to win awesome prizes from sponsors, and they get to join in a Facebook group solely for participants of each challenge where we share photos from our hikes and encourage each other to keep getting outside. We get to see some pretty epic photos from hikes in the Rockies, the Appalachians, the Oregon coast, the mountains in Alaska, and even some great hikes in Japan. It’s an inspiring group to be a part of for those 30 days.

Everyone who registers for a Hike it Baby 30 challenge also gets a sticker to commemorate. In the past stickers have always been a solid color with a fun little graphic. The color and design is different each challenge and participants love to collect them. I had the privilege of designing two of them from 2017; the brown sticker with the foxes and the navy blue sticker with the buck and fawn.

For 2018, the folks at Hike it Baby decided to up the ante on the Hike it Baby 30 stickers and they asked me to do a landscape watercolor painting for the four challenges; each representing the season and a different landscape in the Hike it Baby world.

I was so pleased with how these turned out in sticker form.

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January Challenge (I have a better photo of this one somewhere on my computer!)

April Challenge

April Challenge

September Challenge

September Challenge

November Challenge

November Challenge

Three of these designs made for great t-shirt designs too.

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More than a few people have joked that we can’t possibly go back to the older style anymore, so we’re brainstorming ideas for 2019. We shall see how it turns out!

Our Holiday Card 2018

With another year, came another fun holiday card for my family. Every year for the last 6 years we’ve had Santa photos taken with FotoFly, and it’s become a fun, family tradition. I make a point to schedule the photos right before Thanksgiving so I have time to design a card!

My boys love to dress in the same outfit and they now give input on how they want to pose with Santa too. This year, my 9yo had the idea for his brother and him to wear their “wedding clothes” and sunglasses and pretend to be Santa’s bodyguards. I thought it was a cute idea and we went with it. Of course, the night of the shoot I completely forgot the suit jacket for my youngest (In my defense, I was suffering from a nasty head cold). Even without the jackets, the photos turned out cute.

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I have to give a shoutout to my friend Amanda for coming up with the fantastic words for the front of our card. That part is always the hardest for me!

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Here’s the back of our card:

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I had these printed with Overnight Prints. They turned out great and were very affordable. When it was time to mail them, I really like to get colored envelopes, so I picked some up from my local Paper Source in their Clover color. I would have preferred a shade of red, but they didn’t have enough on the day I went. I should have thought of that ahead of time and ordered from their website.

Relax, that’s not really the Wiselka Family’s address.

Relax, that’s not really the Wiselka Family’s address.

I printed names and addresses onto the envelopes using the same fonts I used on the card. My trusty HP laser printer, that I’m sure is more than 10 years old, but it still does a great job.

I don’t get to do much design work for my own family, so our annual holiday card is one thing I really look forward to designing every year. I think my kids love getting to add their input too.

Merry Christmas!

Holiday Cards 2018

Holiday cards are up in my Etsy shop and will be available until December 14, 2018. If you don’t have any Etsy account or would prefer to place an order outside of Etsy, you’re welcome to send me an email and I’ll get your holiday card made.

Here are some of the designs I added this year. Click on the images below to link to the listings on Etsy.

These two designs also have the option to showcase one portrait photo instead of two landscape.

This one below can be done with either a blue, red, or green background.

I also added our holiday card from last year. You can choose between a green, red, or blue faux knitted sweater background.

I added two background variations to my popular Santa’s Most Wanted holiday card.

The design below is a variation on the Santa’s Most Wanted Card that I created for a client a couple of years ago. This one really cracked me up! Through the listing you can choose from three different chalkboard background colors: red, green, or blue.

If you’d like to customize any of these designs with different colors, fonts, or layouts, it’s totally doable through a custom order. Just shoot me a message or email with any questions you may have: alextebowdesigns@gmail.com

Happy Holidays!