Rise + Wander in a Subaru Ascent by Aftyn Shah

The Start of a Subaru Family

We are a Subaru family.

Five years ago, a semi-truck and another car collided, spinning the car into my lane, where I had less than a second to brake and we collided full-speed on a major DC area highway. It was fast, it was painful, it was traumatizing. I had always been the person who cherished the freedom of four wheels, who used to take off spontaneously for roadtrips or to clear my head, and suddenly I was terrified to get back behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, with endless neurology and concussion clinic appointments, as well as prenatal appointments (oh, yes, I was 13-weeks pregnant, too), I needed to get places. My husband and his cousin were amazingly patient, driving me to-and-from while I cried through every lane change and held onto the door with a vice-like grip. But the reality is I needed to get back into a car on my own—which was tough, given I cried and shook at the thought.

Until Subaru.

My husband, bless him, did all the legwork and narrowed down our search before even involving me. We went to a couple dealers, but it wasn’t until I sat with a gentleman at Subaru that I actually became open to the conversation. He answered every single one of my concerns (and there were/are many). He listened to my impossible “What-if!?” scenarios with empathy, rather than assuming I was crazy. He talked me through everything. He showed me videos. He showed me specs. We covered it all.

And then came the test drive. By the end of it, I was completely and utterly in love. Fast forward five years later, and we now have two Foresters in our driveway. I cannot imagine ever driving any other car.


A Trip to Colorado

I’ve been planning to head out to Colorado since earlier this summer. We have a good friend who lives in Vail, and have been discussing it for ages, yet never actually booking tickets. Finally, I declared I was going—with or without the family! And, honestly, I’m kind of glad my first time out into the Colorado mountains was by myself. It was incredibly inspirational and refreshing, and I took about 60 million reference photos (only a slight exaggeration).

We woke up, had coffee, went for hikes, strolled mountain towns, had leisure lunches, waded in creeks, canoed, and just generally enjoyed busy, soul-filling days. When my head hit the pillow, I was completely out. It was glorious to feel that hint of soreness in my muscles, and be totally content and at ease.

The only snag in planning this trip was the rental car. I dreaded it. I put it off. The idea of selecting some random vehicle, based on a company’s current and ever-changing inventory, was kind of awful to me, especially knowing I would be driving into and around the mountains.


Enter the 2019 Subaru Ascent

As I was carrying that dread around, you can imagine my excitement in partnering with Subaru. Not only would I get to drive a Subaru during my trip, but I would get an extended test drive in the Ascent, a car my husband has been researching for our family.

I’m not a techy car person, so I won’t wow you with all the data points (this is the internet, folks, you can read those here), but what interests us is the third row. I think this is probably what interests most families. You’re getting the flexible seating for more people and storage, but you still have a solid, safe vehicle that’s made for getting outdoors and having adventures.

In all honesty, I’m a little sad my family of four wasn’t together to really experience the Ascent, but I think I made the most of it without them. I got to experience it as an adventure-mobile! And my husband was certainly jealous. :)


Taking the Ascent into the Mountains

On one hand, I felt confident in what to expect—it was a Subaru. It would be well-made and safe. No big deal.

But, on the other, it was different from my usual, and there’s always that adjustment period in driving a new car.

When I first got in the Ascent, I could definitely tell that it was bigger. I had read the specific measurements (it’s only 16” longer than my Forester), and it was less the length and more the width and height that I noticed. Thankfully, the first roads I drove on were the massively wide airport lanes, and my adjustment period was extremely brief. By the time I pulled onto the highway to head up into the mountains, I felt totally confident.

The entire trip, this car took to each road surface with ease. Driving up through the winding mountain passes, heading down the steep roads, taking narrow, twisty off-road paths and navigating the rockier ones, cruising through Vail’s town center… all of it. If you’ve driven up in that area, you know the S-turns alone can be a little daunting, especially to an out-of-towner, but the Ascent really made me feel secure.

The Fun Stuff in the Ascent

Again, I’m not someone who can rattle off car facts, but I want to share the highlights I enjoyed beyond just feeling comfortable…

The Console Computer System

We have a 2018 Forester, which has a great console system, but I was so pleasantly surprised by the ease with which the Ascent worked with my iPhone for music, navigation, and even calls and texts (Please read: Do NOT text while driving. Ever. There is no message worth risking someone’s life.). It was just something I wasn’t necessarily expecting, because I feel my Forester’s features are great, but now I miss this incredible console system, ha.

The Moon Roof

The moon roof was amazing. Massive and fun to have open, especially for the cool, dry morning air you get at higher altitudes.

19 Beverage Holders

You read that right. Why would I ever need 19 beverage holders? Well, I don’t know, but I like to be hydrated, and this feature thrills me. I can put my beloved water bottle all sorts of places!

But, seriously, it’s just convenient. I’m thinking about my family, and how each one of us has our own water bottle, and there’s of course my reusable coffee mug. Those things add up.

And, again, I like to be hydrated.

The Flexible Seating

We adjusted the Ascent into numerous configurations during the week, so that we could stow our gear, recline in the back for sunrise, and also just to try them out! I was curious, what can I say? This car really is wonderfully flexible, which is particularly useful for a family having to consider carseats.


Rise + Wander Final Verdict

I’ve been very transparent that this was in partnership with Subaru, which means they allowed me to drive this vehicle for free. I want to be open about that, so that no one thinks I’m trying to sneak one by them. I don’t typically do sponsorships or partnerships, and so I hope you understand my excitement on this one. It’s genuine.

I really, really loved this car.

My family is still considering it as our next vehicle. In fact, while I was in Colorado, my husband went for a test drive (I wasn’t lying when I said he was jealous!). This trip was just a small adventure for me without my family, so I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to try it as a family car.

But, that said, I really do think it would work beautifully for a family. For us, we have our two boys (both still in carseats), but we need a little more seating (for our au pair, visiting family, or friends), as well as the storage options. We need the versatility, but we also want to continue driving a Subaru. All in all, this is a great addition to the Subaru line-up.


Fine Print

Again, Subaru provided me the Ascent to experience and drive for this trip (hence the #ad on social media), with the understanding I would take photos and share my experience. Every opinion above and every mention or post on social media was my own. I loved the opportunity and am very thankful.

Balancing Motherhood with a Creative Business by Aftyn Shah


I no longer believe in work-life balance. I think it’s a myth. And, like many other myths, I think it’s rooted in momentary half-truths, which of course leave out a lifetime’s worth of details. Frustrating, messy, and totally robust, if utterly mundane details. Instead, I’ve come to realize there will always be an ebb and flow of priorities. Sometimes the waves are gentle, and we’re able to ride them easily, and other times we’re tossed around until we might be pulled under. We’re up and down and here and there, and sometimes just holding on and praying for sanity.

Can you tell I’ve felt more like I’m in the rough waters lately?

Beyond the Instagram Squares

I find myself scrolling through Instagram and seeing idyllic photos of mothers contentedly creating while their little ones play at their feet or sleep wrapped to their chests. And then I find myself posting photos of adorable chubby hands “helping” me work in the studio or happily crawling around my table, like they fit in easily into my process.

And it’s such a farce.

Parenting is exhausting. It's joy-filled and beautiful, but bringing up tiny humans, helping them thrive and become good people, is a massive undertaking. It’s a full-time endeavor, 24-hours of every single day. Some moments, I feel like I’m the best mom in the world; others, I worry I’m completely failing these boys. Most days are somewhere in between that very broad spectrum, and I think that's normal for most parents.

Add in any kind of employment (whether you work in or out of the home) or a similarly demanding responsibility, and you’re going to inevitably face conflict. Struggle. Frustration. Disappointment. A lot of feelings.

Small Children Don't Make Great Helpers


I started R+W as a sort of hobby, a mental stretch activity after a brain injury. I had my one son at home with me, back when we were in St. Louis, and he went to daycare for two or three full days each week. I had a wealth of time (approximately 30 hours to myself) to rest, go to my doctors’ appointments, do my cognitive therapies, focus on diet, hike, create, tidy the house, and fulfill the very few orders I had in the beginning. I had a rhythm and everything felt easy.

Fast forward to today. I have two boys now (SJ is four, Sam will be one at the end of June) and R+W has grown into a full-blown business. A small one (hi, it’s just me), but a business all the same. Unfortunately, while R+W has grown, my dedicated hours have disappeared. SJ goes to nursery school for part of the day, but I have Sam with me full-time, and he’s a handful.

Let’s just say, when you see his chubby little hands in photos, it’s obviously cute, but I’m not holding him in my lap because I love the stinker so much (I do). It’s because that twenty-pound tornado of a child believes it’s his purpose in life to attack everything by either beating it into the ground or chewing it to smithereens. His only goal at this point is to conquer through destruction, and that could be his brother’s Lego towers or the artwork I took hours to create.

Also, he might not walk, but he climbs. He scales the safety gate and laughs. This kid is like a mischievous little monkey.

So, here I am, like any small business owner, trying to get stuff done. We wear so many hats, am I right? Artist, webmaster, social media strategist, copywriter, photographer, bookkeeper and accountant, admin, packer/shipper, supply manager… But I’m also trying to keep this kid alive and from devastating our house. And, on the subject of our house, I’m also the one trying to keep it presentable to the point that we don’t hide behind our couch if the neighbors stop by.

(I want to note, before you make any assumptions, that my husband is amazing and supportive and a great father, but he works full-time himself and is also enrolled in graduate school right now. When he's home and we're all together, we try to emphasize family time.)

All of this to say that sometimes parenthood and running a business feel like two diametrically opposed objectives. If you feel this way, you’re not alone.

You. Are. Not. Alone.

Being a “mompreneur” has become a bit of a cliché these days, and there is this image of women who somehow manage to fit it all in and get it done while we carry our babes around in wraps or on our hips. Our houses are full of gorgeous houseplants we always remember to water, our windows let in beautiful natural light, and we cook amazing meals--all of this on top of creating nonstop!

This is not real life.

And no amount of chanting #HustleHarder or “You’ve got this, mama!” on social media is going to make it easier. If you take everyone at their word, we all seem to be doing so darn well, like it’s easy. But that almost does a disservice to the effort.


It’s not easy.

You are not alone. I want you to know that, from me to you. So many of us are struggling behind the scenes of these little square pictures you see posted. That doesn't mean we're unhappy or can't recognize our luck in doing what we love. It just means so many of us are wishing for another five hours in the day (preferably when the babies are miraculously sleeping).

It Takes a Village

There might be that one in a million mother whose sweet children cooperate throughout her studio time and play nicely, but more likely there are temper tantrums about breakfast, shoe standoffs, and messes happening while she tries to eke out three minutes of work whenever possible. And, if those things aren’t there, I guarantee she either has a baby who sleeps beautifully and never fusses or she has help. A village. Either she pays for that village or she has wonderfully supportive family and friends who can help out.

Which brings me to one of the changes I’ve been hinting at for my family. At the end of May, we are welcoming a wonderful young woman into our home to help with our children. For the first time ever, I will have regular studio time, dedicated creative periods. I don’t think I can properly convey in words how excited how I am.

To be totally frank, I have felt like I’m drowning these past couple months. My orders are running up against my internal two-week deadline for shipment, I’m painfully behind on emails (sorry!), and I have been turning down opportunities I really want. On top of this, I feel like I’m not the mother or wife or friend or daughter that I want to be.

So, there it is. Life is not Instagram, which we all know, but sometimes need reminding. Sometimes we need help. I want to be very transparent as I make this change in my business, because when June comes and I'm able to focus more on R+W I don't want anyone to think I'm doing it alone.

Rise + Wander Shirt Pre-Sale! by Aftyn Shah


A lot of you have asked about putting R+W designs on shirts, and after a couple months of research and experimentation they’re finally here!

Well, actually, no, they’re not HERE, but the pre-sale is! What does that mean? Read on, my friend.

Why a Presale?

As I’m a small business (we’re talkin’ tiny, one-woman show), I’m not in a position to maintain large quantities of inventory to accommodate the colors and sizes I want to offer. To solve this, I’ve decided to host a pre-sale for a little over a week, during which you can order your shirt(s) for a discounted price. Once the pre-sale is closed, I will place the blank shirt order and start printing like a mad woman once they arrive. Orders will ship as soon as they’re ready, but no later than November 18th.

Pre-Sale Details

The pre-sale will run from October 14th through the 23rd.  Once the pre-sale closes, shirts will not be available for sale again until around early December.  Ordinarily, short-sleeve shirts will be $28, but the pre-sale price will be $25.

Shirt Details

After researching various options, I settled on American Apparel fine jersey crewneck unisex t-shirts. I appreciate their fair labor practices and that they manufacture (and create jobs) here at home in the United States. Their shirts are also incredibly soft and comfortable to wear, and take screenprint beautifully.

The four colors available are navy blue (white ink), olive green (white ink), ash grey seafoam (black ink), and heather grey (black ink).

The Screenprint Process

I'm known for creating blockprints, so you might wonder why I chose to screenprint these shirts instead. I originally planned to blockprint, just like I would an art print, but ultimately decided to screenprint because of the solid and even color the technique provides. It took some time (and mistakes!), but I figured out the process and developed my own best practices, and I’ve really enjoyed learning something new.

Rest assured, the designs are taken directly from the block! In order to maintain the integrity of the original blockprint, I decided to actually print on a transparency (just like I would paper) to then transfer to the screen via the photo-emulsion method. It would probably have been easier to print digitally, but I think it’s pretty neat that I can say the design is that much closer to being an actual blockprint.

Once the shirts are printed with fabric ink, they’re heat treated and washed, so they’ll be ready to wear when you get them!

Shirt Care

While the design is screenprinted with ink that’s intended to stand up to garment washing, there are steps you can take to lengthen the life of your shirt. Cold water, mild detergent, and turning your shirt inside-out during washes will all help keep the image looking sharp. If your dryer is like mine and the temperature is hot-hot-hot even on low, then maybe pick a delicate setting.


I completely understand that ordering a shirt online can be tricky, but please review the description and size chart in each listing carefully. If you receive your shirt and find it is the wrong size, please contact me and return it within 30 days and I will gladly exchange it if I have your size available in your color preference. If an exchange isn't an option, I will issue a refund minus the cost of shipping.

What now?

Take advantage of the pre-sale and go buy a shirt!