The Desert

San Clemente Family Photographer-6499

San Clemente Family Photographer-6346 San Clemente Family Photographer-6358 San Clemente Family Photographer-6361 San Clemente Family Photographer-6359 San Clemente Family Photographer-6372 San Clemente Family Photographer-6380 San Clemente Family Photographer-6392 San Clemente Family Photographer-6396 San Clemente Family Photographer-6400 San Clemente Family Photographer-6402 San Clemente Family Photographer-6406 San Clemente Family Photographer-6496 San Clemente Family Photographer-6524 San Clemente Family Photographer-6530 San Clemente Family Photographer-6512 San Clemente Family Photographer-6555 San Clemente Family Photographer-6586 San Clemente Family Photographer-6589 San Clemente Family Photographer-6569 San Clemente Family Photographer-6351 San Clemente Family Photographer-6604 San Clemente Family Photographer-6613 San Clemente Family Photographer-6616 San Clemente Family Photographer-6635 San Clemente Family Photographer-6651I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as enjoyable trips with kids. And before you get all don’t-be-so-cynical on me, let me expand upon that negative nancy statement. Traveling with kids is the pits, but deep down buried in that pit – if you can tolerate the stench – are a few noteworthy good times, like little stubbles of hair that the razor just couldn’t cut. I’m talking about the kinds of times that are memory builders, so that years later you forget all about tantrums and the fighting and the whining and the late nights and early mornings only to recall not even a particular good moment of the trip but rather the feeling that good moment gave you, even if it only lasted a hot fleeting minute. Nostalgia, working its magic.

That’s what photos do for me and I suppose that’s why I do what I do; I like to replicate feelings so that more than just the moment is captured… I seek to hold on to feelings.

I digress. This last trip to the desert was the pits in so many ways. It started with the stress of leaving and preparing the house for some showings we had scheduled (we’re planning on moving this summer). Do you know how difficult it is to turn a home kids live in into anything other than a junkyard? I must have removed at least 5 partially eaten squeezable yogurts from under the sofa. And that was just the beginning of what I found under there. In any event, thanks to friends we were able to pawn Van (aka Mister-asks-a-thousand-questions-an-hour) off for the morning and by the time we left in the afternoon, the house was in an order we’ve never been lucky enough to enjoy it in. Meaning it was clean. And organized, albeit haphazardly.

Not long after arriving, we hightailed it for the pool; the hundred degree weather leading the way. And not long after that, Hooper ate it… The sound of his head hitting the wet concrete piercing the ears of everyone who happened to witness it. I held him in my arms as he cried and cried. It wasn’t until he started throwing up that Willy and I started to really worry and so we gathered our things and decided it’d be best to get him checked out. Jimmie peed on the way out, right there on the concrete by the pool. Because – you know – that’s how shit goes down sometimes.

We spent a few hours in the ER, Willy juggling Van, Sonny, and Jimmie in the car while I waited with Hooper in the waiting room. We left after 11pm, never ate dinner, and waited another hour at a 24 hour pharmacy for a medication that cost $60 and that we only gave him one time. And then he barfed in the car, on the way back to the hotel, for good measure.

We got back to the hotel after midnight, realized the air conditioner in our room was not working and had to pack up everything we had unpacked and switch rooms to a smaller room where any sort of pathway or empty space quickly got eaten up by rollaway beds for the boys. Willy and I slept on and off because there’s nothing like worrying about a child to keep a parent up at night.

The following day we split forces; Willy stayed in the room with Hooper and Sonny to rest while I took Van to the pool. A better day when compared to the night prior which would have made many of the days in our shit-hit-the-fan parenthood capsule look more desirable.

We ventured out to The Salton Sea that evening and enjoyed dinner at our favorite dive bar in the area; also-known-as-the-only-restaurant-for-miles. We left with lifted spirits, the kind that only an adventure that didn’t end with a trip to the ER could bring.

We returned home the following day; the clean house we left unraveling faster than a ball of yarn rolling downhill. And so it goes, right?

Another trip to the desert, albeit our costliest yet, in the books.

Childhood Unplugged

San Clemente Family Photographer-6463

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The Salton Sea, a place I can’t seem to abandon whenever we’re out in the desert; equal parts mystical and enchanting, disgusting and desolate. And different every time we go.

We stopped at a hole-in-the-wall bar / restaurant in Bombay Beach, a place you’re sure to sit shoulder to shoulder with the local crowd. It’s walls adorned with dollar bills, so many in fact that I always think should the place run into financial ruin the money on the wall is sure to pay for another months rent, at least. I’ve heard whispers that Anthony Bourdain ate here once; not that the food is to rave about, it’s really the only option for miles. In any event, the fried chicken and french fries never seem to disappoint. Unless you’re a three-year-old on the verge of the fucking fours and your goal in life is to make every step of life difficult; in-which-case, not even fried deliciousness can contend with a sour mood.

We stepped out with bellies full, minus said three-year-old, the warm on-the-verge-of-summer air wrapping around us like a blanket on a cold night. The trains passing in the distance and the sun setting beyond the horizon. We pulled off the road at a spot we’ve been several times in the past and stumbled upon an abandoned wood boat we had never seen before; the mystery of the Salton Sea proving, as always, to produce more questions than answers.

Given the day prior, which included a trip to the ER, this day was in some way payback for prior suffering. Even if for just a few moments in time; moments where that soon-to-be four-year-old let go of the fact his cowboy boots were soggy (I mean who goes into the pool with their cowboy boots on?) and explored an abandoned ‘pirate ship’ while the trains chugged on and the setting sun said goodnight.

More on our last trip to the desert to come.

Please join me in supporting the other photographers participating in the Childhood Unplugged movement by clicking here to see all our submissions. You can also follow us on instagram (@childhoodunplugged) and be sure to use #childhoodunplugged for a chance to be featured on our Instagram feed.

Childhood Unplugged | The Salton Sea

San Clemente Family Photographer-2233

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Before we dropped Willy off at his meeting he told me, “Just don’t let the boys touch the fish or go in the water”. But within minutes, fish were touched and there wasn’t any winning that battle; pieces of fish bone crunching beneath their sledge covered shoes and falling through the crevices between their fingers. Holding up varying degrees of rotting carcasses, “Mama, is this one okay to pick up?”, proving needless to answer given the fact whatever fish they were inquiring about was already in their little grubby hands. “Van, keep your thumb out of your mouth” the only request I could muster at that point.

The Salton Sea; so beautiful on the eyes, so hard on the nose. This trip, however, proving not so bad on the ol’ sniffer. Not one complaint from the boys, actually, who – in the past – have been turned off by the stench of those rotting carcasses.

They climbed rocks, fell on rocks, made footprints in contaminated mud that made me cringe about the thought of those shoes later having to come off and me, invariably, having to touch them to do so. But as the sun fell and the water turned to glass I opted to rely on a faint hope that I would find some hand sanitizer in the car and with that hope I let go of whatever reservations I had. I suppose that’s what happens when in the presence of beauty. We watched the birds fly overhead, a line of other photographers slowly lining the shoreline and mimicking the arrangement of the flying birds themselves; one evenly spaced, straight line. Reflections of wood posts that used to anchor yachts that have since left for other waters, cleaner waters, mirroring the reflection of the mountains and making it all look like a Salvador Dali painting leaving one to question which end is up. Fish carcasses tossed back into the waters that have discarded them – killed them – breaking the glass-like appearance and sending ripples outward, stillness turned to movement; the silence broken. The color palette of the sky subtly changing.

We made our way back, the nights sky illuminated by what appeared to be a full-moon. The water turned back to glass, silence reigning once again in the wake of the exit of two little boys who did their damnest to return those dead fish to their home in the sea, the Salton Sea; ever beautiful, ever polluted. One of life’s most interesting conundrums. One of my favorite places.

Please join me in supporting the other photographers participating in the Childhood Unplugged movement by clicking here to see all our submissions. You can also follow us on instagram (@childhoodunplugged) and be sure to use #childhoodunplugged for a chance to be featured on our Instagram feed.

A desert escape, part II + Waiting on a baby

San Clemente Family Photographer-1374

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Being overdue with both boys was one of the most torturous times for me, emotionally. In hindsight I’m sure a lot of it had to do with hormones, but there was also a mix of lack of control and fielding the questions from loved ones who seemed to think I had this control that I’m well aware of lacking. I felt this weird pressure to have some sort of hidden communication with my baby inside me; as if it would be giving me hints as to when it was going to come. And really, I did’t feel anything until I felt the buildup of what soon became everything.

This time around I’m in this weird balance of fretting being overdue again and yet, really savoring the last bit of all the magic that is pregnancy and, well, not really wanting (or being ready) for it to end. In no way am I trying to romanticize pregnancy… this shit is definitely hard. I mean it’s completely unfair how uncomfortable sleep has become; at a time when I really feel I should be storing up whatever extra couple of minutes I can I just can’t seem to escape a backache or a cramp in my leg that sends me literally shooting out of bed or a foot in my rib that makes it feel as if my uterine lining is literally tearing away at the seam. Hooper got up last night and showed up discretely next to my side of the bed requesting to be tucked back in. It was 3 am and I had already been up twice to pee and once to request that Willy give Van cough medicine because his incessant coughing was keeping me – and surely him – up.

I digress.

I remember a loved one telling me when I was pregnant with Hooper to stay busy. It sounded like sound advice; I mean waiting for water to boil while watching it takes forever. But I also remember it being it out of realm of abilities… I couldn’t wait for the transition from couple to family to begin and I literally passed each day with it consuming my thoughts and doing everything in my power – eating pineapple, walking the dog, bouncing on the ball, etc – to make it happen.

Just as I don’t feel the urge to know this baby’s gender this time around, I also don’t feel the urge to rush this baby’s arrival. I’m treading carefully when saying such because I still remember how torturous it can be; “it” being the wait and, really, the wonder if your body is going to do what it’s expected to do in the absence of dare-I-say having to be induced, again. And while I’m still in a good place, today, in terms of trusting my body and believing it will indeed start the ball rolling on it’s own, I know that as the days go on, that hope – that trust – tends to be brought more into question and self-doubt starts to whisper some pretty nasty things in your ear.

So I’m going back to that advice I received long ago: stay busy. And it’s much easier this time around, with two to tend to and a house that because of those two is constantly giving me something to do; something to wash, something to sort, something to organize or reorganize for that matter. For example, we had the nursery all set up… everything in place. Then we decided to photograph some rugs to add to our etsy shop and just like that, the crib is not where it needs to be, there are numerous rugs strewn about the room, and a bed covered in tapestries. And so, organize the nursery is back on the to-do list after having been scratched off weeks ago. And so it goes.

We’ve also opted to join Willy on some business trips out to the desert. I knew they were coming and I figured when the time actually came, I’d see how I felt. And having been feeling good – or good enough – I trekked my 38 week ass out to the desert, spending some one-on-one time with my boys while Willy attended his meetings. And watching those little loves of mine run and explore and even comfort one another when the other got hurt reminded me that staying busy, that getting out, and living – as opposed to waiting – is what feels right at this stage in the game. The asterisk being that all of this is subject to change. I know the raging lunatic is within me. I’m just hoping the baby comes before she has the time to show herself.

Palm Springs

San Clemente Photographer-105

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I shot a wedding the other weekend out in the desert and we opted to make a family trip, with hopes that September would bring a hint of relief from the otherwise torturous desert summer heat. It did not. It was the kinda heat that makes every step you take a conscious effort, where every cell within your body feels swollen to it’s capacity. It’s one thing I’ve noticed in all three of my pregnancies now — the inability to tolerate extreme heat; or even the 80 degree days, for that matter. The desert did not hear my plea.

We left much later in the day that we had planned, which is the case when you have kids, isn’t it? I always underestimate the time it takes to fill and package orders and given the fact I had worked in the hospital the day prior, I had not had the time to pack or get organized in the way I’ve learned you must when you’re running a household with children in it. I’ve never been a planner or an organizer and while motherhood has changed that to some extend, I know too well that there are cracks in that front and that my old wait-til’-the-last-minute self often shines through. And because life likes to pay you back in ways that sometimes feel unfair, we ran into standstill traffic that was just enough to make me a bit queasy.

We stopped at a liquor store once we got into Palm Springs and picked up a few essentials, including donuts and sugary cereal, something I blame on sending Willy into the store while the boys and I waited in the air-conditioned car. Come the next morning, no one was complaining about said choices.

Because we rented a home via AirBnb, we left Jimmie back home which allowed us the freedom to check out The Living Desert; something we always wanted to check out with the boys but never got to since most of our trips to the desert are with Jimmie in tow. We paid a small fee to get in and another small fee for the tram, which picks you up and drops you off at different areas of the park. I joked that the tickets should have been $5 and the tram ride should have been $50 because there was no physical way any person could walk those grounds, in that heat, and survive. Every step, again being a conscious effort, every cell, again swelling to capacity. It felt like there were more people working there than visiting and by the end of our hour or two stent, I could see why; it was simply unbearable. We made good use of our time indoors for lunch and in the discovery center, where the kids touched just about everything they could – including a possums tail – within a few minutes but spent the next thirty climbing up and down a small carpeted hill while Willy and I waited for our body temperatures to cool to a normal level before making what I estimate to be a couple hundred feet walk to the exit. I considered waiting for the tram, which would have made the full loop back around the park, just to take us to the exit and avoid those couple hundred of feet in the sweltering heat. Did I mention that it was hot?

We also spent some time in the pool because water is more or less a necessity in conditions like these (am I being dramatic?). And later in the day we did some off-roading and happened upon Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs, which had some of the most beautiful woven rugs, tapestries, and ceramics.

I woke up the next morning fretting about the wedding, cuz’ that’s what I do before just about every shoot, no matter how big or small. And as if luck were on my side, the clouds hung around most of the day and between that and my adrenaline, the heat was more or less an after thought. The wedding was terrific and the couple every bit delightful as I had imagined. I’ll be sharing some of those images soon.

We left the following morning, hitting up our favorite breakfast joint just one last time; the deal sweetened by it being “Grandparents Day” and the kids eating free… something all of us parents can appreciate because we all know how wasted half those meals are anyway. Later in the day we returned home to a house full of dust (we’re working on one of the bathrooms), bags begging to be unpacked, and a memory card full of a couple’s special day begging to be edited.

But, alas, air conditioning. And a thirty degree temperature drop.

The Desert

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I swore, after the last time, that we’d never join Willy on one of his business trips out in the desert again. I mean I resorted to letting the boys play with the bidet, for goodness sakes.
But, lo and behold, we tagged along and, lo and behold, we had a good time. Jimmie behaved, which was a large part of the battle last time. We splashed around in the pool, made it out to Joshua Tree despite the on again off again rain, met up with some friends who were also out there for dinner and drinks, and visited the dinosaurs on the way home (Hooper’s been obsessed with dinosaurs as of late).
All in all, a great trip. We’ll be out in the desert again this weekend; this time I’ll be working. While I’m thinking of it, if anyone wants to book a Saturday session, that could work out. Email me if you’re interested, I love shooting in the desert: ashley @

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The Desert

Leave it to open dirt roads, two sleeping toddlers, and a bag full of snacks to bring out life’s big questions. Willy and I love dreaming and scheming and creating together. We spent a couple of days out in the desert and came back feeling inspired and energized. It’s easy, as a mother, to get caught up in mothering the kiddos but every now and again I find myself wanting and needing to take a step back and appreciate the man that’s helped build this little family of ours. He’s really something special and I’m so grateful.  
The boys have gotten easier and easier to travel with and any troubles they caused on the trip are already forgotten; memories shaped instead by the photos of a few special moments along the way. Pit stops, mostly. And a few of that spectacular little ranch we stayed at.  
Tonight, when I go to sleep, I’ll be dreaming about open roads, sleeping toddlers, and snacks. And maybe cacti too.

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