Jenny Inspires Family Togetherness and Fun!

Tell us more about yourself, your site, and your family.  Why did you decide to start your site?

I met my husband Josh when I was fourteen. We started dating and the rest is history. We got married young (I was 21 and he was 22) and we started having kids the next year. We always knew having a close, loving family would be important to us, but it wasn’t until we had kids that we came to know exactly what that meant. I grew up in a broken home and my childhood was overrun by my mom’s drug use, abuse, and neglect. Josh grew up in a household filled with love, but lacking when it came to memorable family moments. As we grew our own little family, we started approaching parenting in a different way. We wanted to fill our kids’ childhoods with fun, laughter, love, and so many memorable experiences.

We started our photography business, Solar Photographers, in 2005 when Max was just a little guy. We spent a few years working every waking moment and sacrificing, but by late 2007, Josh was able to quit his job and go full time in photography. I followed him a year and a half later. With more time on our side, we began focusing like crazy on fostering our own happy little family. We stayed up super late every night working after the kids went to bed so that we could soak up every minute of family time during the day.

In 2009, with three kids in tow, we took our first family road trip, from Kansas City, MO to Durango, CO. We were inexperienced when it came to road tripping with kids and instead of following the status quo (i.e. drive as fast as possible to get to your destination), we took a different approach. We left with little in the way of concrete plans and let the kids and our own sense of adventure lead the way. After that first trip, we were hooked. We started traveling every opportunity we could get and we started sharing our adventures on our family blog. People really loved following along on our adventures, watching a video of our family dancing on the last brick road section of Route 66 in Illinois, wearing fake mustaches in Colorado Springs, and lightsaber fighting on the side of road in Texas.

In 2011, we hired a business consultant and she planted the seed of The Happy Family Movement. She encouraged us to use our blog as a voice for sharing our vision of family. In March 2011, we transformed our family blog from Running in Circles (our personal family blog) to The Happy Family Movement, a website and blog dedicated to encouraging and inspiring family togetherness through simple ideas for happy family living and memorable family experiences. We launched with our first product in our online store, our Adventure in a Box: Road Trippin’ kit. It’s a box full of fun items that encourage memorable family experiences and a book we wrote about our take on the family road trip. In the last year, we’ve added several more products to our store, including wall art, several Adventure Guide e-books, and another Adventure in a Box. Each one of our products ties back into our mission of encouraging family togetherness.

As of late 2012, we’re still photographing weddings and families. Our kids are growing up… Max is almost 8, Ava’s almost 6, and Lia is four. With two kids in school full time and the littlest in preschool part time, our life and our schedule looks very different from what it looked like even two years ago. But our mission remains the same, to cram as much love as possible into these short years.

How did you choose the name, “The Happy Family Movement”?

We did a lot of brainstorming. ‘Happy family’ was pretty obvious right off the bat. We struggled to come up with ‘Movement’ but in the end, we want HFM to be about community and to be a movement… our generation reshaping the frame of parenting… getting back to family first and having fun with our kids and radiating love in everything that we do. We recognize that we are LEADING this movement, but it’s not just about us. We’re not perfect and we don’t have ALL the answers. But together, as a community of like-minded parents, we CAN forge this path to happy, loving, close-knit families.

Do you have any family traditions for the holidays?

Family traditions are really important to our family. Every Thanksgiving, we make an apple pie from scratch. The first year we did it, the kids were little and when I turned to grab the apple mixture from another counter, they put their little feet right into the pie crust! There were cute little footprints in it. Instead of getting mad and starting over, we decided to just roll with it. The next year, instead of footprints, we decided to put our thumbprints in the crust. Now we do that every time. Some of our other holiday traditions include: attending the Plaza lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving night, baking Christmas cookies, shopping for Toys for Tots, decorating our Christmas tree, and every year, we let the kids pick out an ornament for the tree.

What are three lessons that you’ve learned from motherhood?

I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that when you become a mom, you can do things your own way. I was raised a certain way, and from a very young age, I just knew that I had to do things different for my own children one day. And even though I still struggle with emotional issues from my childhood, I know that I’m forging my own path with my kids. I know I’ll make mistakes, but when it’s all said and done, I think that the things we are doing with them now will lead to us having awesome relationships when they are grown… something I don’t have with my own mom.

You have to fight for what you believe in and they’re YOUR kids, so it’s okay to do it your way. Everybody has an opinion when it comes to raising kids. I try to take my own advice on this one, which is ‘listen to what other people have to say and then do what feels best for your family and your kids’. There are a lot of right ways to raise kids and what works for some, won’t work for others. But as long as you’re listening your internal guide and doing what’s best for your kids, everything will turn out fine.

What are your top 5 favorite things to do with your family?

  1. Snuggle – We always joke that ‘you can’t be a Solar if you don’t like to snuggle’. We love it when the kids climb in our bed in the morning to snuggle and every night, we climb in their beds with them for what we call ‘snuggle chats’… they’re exactly what they sound like. We snuggle and chat about their day. It’s a great way to connect with each kid one-on-one and I think it really strengthens our bond.
  2. Adventure – Our family motto is ‘Say yes to adventure’. Sometimes that means dropping our plans for driving 200 more miles and renting out an entire castle in Kentucky for the night (yes, that actually happened). Sometimes it means zip lining or parasailing or jumping into a pool fully clothed at 9 pm at night. Sometimes it means surfing for the first time or canoeing for the first time or riding a 2600 foot slide down a mountain. However adventure presents itself, we try to embrace it and go for it.
  3. Ride bikes – We have two bike trailers and when the kids were little, we’d bike around town with them in tow. Now, Max and Ava ride their own bikes and Lia chills in the trailer with a book and a snack. We love riding to school and the park when the weather is nice.
  4. Playing in the cul-de-sac – We do everything in the cul-de-sac. We play baseball, we play soccer, we ride bikes, we eat ice cream, we play cars and babies and bubbles.
  5. Being rowdy and wild – We are a LOUD and rowdy kind of family. We love running in the house, jump-flipping onto the couches, sword fighting with foam swords, pillow fighting, tickling, dance parties, wrestling, mommy monster, you name it, it’s loud and crazy, we’re in!

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