2018: In a Nutshell

Good Morning, Happy Monday- and Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!

I’m completely stunned that we’ve reached this point again- the day/night when we bid adieu to another year in the books and prepare to welcome in a brand new year (with champagne and confetti, I’m sure!) filled with endless possibilities, new hopes, dreams and goals- maybe a little anxiety at the idea of any uncertainties that lay ahead, too- but hopefully a whole lot of optimism!

That’s right, my dear friends and readers- 2018 is just hours away from being over, and 2019 is ready to glide into our lives and sweep us off our feet! Can you believe it? Time flies by so quickly.

I’ve always enjoyed New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day- not only because I’m fortunate enough to spend it in typically beautiful, picturesque or just plain wild locations, either surrounded by friends or- sometimes- on my own with some much-needed peace and quiet- but also because I like the idea of a clean slate. How, after just a brief countdown to midnight- you can begin to forge a pathway to a future you want and take those first steps to reaching goals for the coming weeks/months ahead.

New Year’s Eve is a celebration of who you were during the previous twelve months leading up to now- while New Year’s Day feels like a whole new beginning and a chance to become the person you want to be. It’s refreshing, isn’t it?

I fully intend to share my plans for the evening and my deeply reflected-upon resolutions for 2019 momentarily- but I absolutely have to look back on and pay my respects to 2018, first. It was a bizarre year- filled with plenty of ups and downs and some memorable headlines, pop culture events and good ol’ memes (which I’ll also get to shortly.)

Now in my early thirties, 2018 was the year I became *painfully* aware of myself as a person- my strengths and weaknesses. My good qualities and my flaws. My past mistakes- some repeated without my even realizing it until recently- and the type of woman I want to be and what I want for myself while moving forward in this more “grown up”, somewhat more stable (but still semi-unpredictable at times), very fun and sometimes treacherous decade I’m clumsily working my way through with the best of my ability.

Professionally, I took on more responsibilities at my full-time job and rose to the challenges that came with those responsibilities- as exhausting as it could be sometimes. I put in plenty of time and effort over the year- and my dedication and careful eye to details were rewarded sporadically and, at times- when I most needed the pick-me-up to stay motivated. My work ethic and positive, professional attitude didn’t just stay within my office, however- but also trickled into my blogging side hustle as I partnered with different brands and fellow bloggers for promotions and products- and even landed me a soon-to-be-part-time-gig at my favorite local independent radio station in Boston. I’m going to have more info on that moving forward!

My personal life and love life, however- took a bit of a hit in 2018 and I suffered emotional and psychological setbacks that really put a lot of things into perspective for me. One of those things, specifically- is that I need to stop being *so* forgiving to people (particularly men) who do me wrong or hurt me. Almost everyone deserves a second chance- depending on the infraction, of course- but I found myself giving second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chances to some fair-weather friends or men I’d dated for repeated terrible behavior because they had either manipulated/twisted the situation and me into thinking everything was my fault, I didn’t want to come across as a heartless or callous monster- or because I was too afraid of being alone to put my foot down and demand respect and to be treated better.

As someone who preaches self-love, not taking bullshit from anyone and never being afraid of your own independence to everyone and anyone- catching myself being reduced into a quiet, demure, overly apologetic and timid little doormat over the course of the Summer and Fall of 2018 was horrifying and, frankly- disgusting. I am not that woman. I never want to be that woman again.

It wasn’t until these recent holidays where I mustered up the courage to not only tell myself but actually *believe* that I deserved the world and I wasn’t going to stop or back down until I got it- and to hell with anyone who disagreed or tried to tell me otherwise. It’s a frame of mind, an attitude and a mood I intend to carry with me into 2019.

Apart from dating/self-esteem setbacks- 2018 was filled with travel and time spent with good friends and family. I spent my birthday in San Diego, the Super Bowl in Vegas, multiple Spring weekends away in NYC, Memorial Day in Washington D.C.- and an extended vacation driving through the desert during the Summer.

I survived a tornado (and a car accident), caught plenty of incredible shows/festivals (and a couple of weddings!)– and explored parts of New England I didn’t even know existed. I also continued to change my hair color, experiment in the kitchen, watched loads of bad movies (and loved them, of course!) and even found time to read a couple of great books, too!

And for all those reasons- good and bad- that’s why 2018 was a year of personal growth and reflection- while simultaneously having a lot of impulsive, lovely and very fun moments to keep me on my toes and balance out the serious stuff with joy and happiness, as well. I’m humbled and grateful for this past year. Truly.

But, before I get into my list of resolutions and a final farewell prior to taking off for the evening and returning a little later on this week to recap my New Year’s Eve/Day- it’s time to look back on some of the absolutely insane, awe-inspiring headlines, pop culture sensations and social media/internet memes that took the world by storm this year.

Ladies and Gentlemen- This is 2018: In a Nutshell.

(Image via ABC)

Robert Mueller handed out indictments like Oprah used to hand out cars: As we drearily move forward through Trump’s tenure as President, heads typically in our hands on a daily basis in disbelief at his stupidity, recklessness, hypocrisy, narcissism or compulsive lying (I could go on, really…), Special Counsel Robert Mueller had himself quite a year as he continued his investigation into the Trump Administration and the Russian government’s interference with our 2016 Presidential election.

Late 2017 and throughout 2018 saw indictments being passed around left and right to former campaign heads and aides to Trump, including former campaign chair Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and so on. As the year progressed, some were sentenced to prison while others have struck plea deals.

Court documents released earlier this month from both Mueller’s office and prosecutors for the Southern District of New York have now implicated Trump in at least one federal crime- and as the world waits to see what will happen next- it’s no surprise that many of us are hoping Mueller will wrap things up in this coming year and finally put an end to this nightmare of ignorance and corruption running (and ruining) our country.

(Image via The Today Show)

The Stoneman Douglas High School students showed us that you can do more than offer “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of gun violence: Following a Valentine’s Day shooting at their high school in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead and many more injured- the survivors at Stoneman Douglas High School turned into some of the most efficient and eloquent gun control activists many had ever seen.

Tired of simply being swept away as another senseless statistic after the initial influx of “thoughts and prayers” ran their usual course until the next mass shooting took place- and not wanting their concerns to be dismissed simply because the topic was uncomfortable or inconvenient for officials to tackle head-on- many students rallied, petitioned, utilized social media and eventually took on politicians and the NRA in televised debates that showed the world they knew what they were talking about and weren’t going to be bullied or bought into silence.

The march, it’s purpose being to raise awareness and push for common sense gun laws and a change in political climate- took place globally on March 24th and included speeches from survivors of gun violence and celebrities who stood in solidarity. While some policies have changed as a result- there’s still a lot to be done- but the march got people to pay attention for what felt like the first time in a very, very long time.

(Image via CBS)

Thousands of children were separated from their families, and all eyes were on the U.S.-Mexico border: Under Trump’s “Zero-Tolerance” immigration policy, which looks to criminally prosecute any person(s) attempting to enter the country illegally- it came to light in the late Spring/early Summer that thousands of children, many whose first language is not English- had been separated from their parents by Border Patrol over the course of a six-week span and were residing in detention centers- or, in some cases- “tent cities.”

Outrage was amplified when reports of neglect/child abuse in the detention centers began to surface- and a call for reunification and an outpouring of support/donations to assist families seeking asylum (which is *not* illegal) followed shortly thereafter.

While some children have been fortunate enough to be reunited with their families- many are still in need of help. Back in June I shared some links to organizations that have been working round-the-clock to assist these children and their parents with the immigration process- and there’s still time to donate time/money!

(Image via CBS)

This man-child loves beer- and throwing temper tantrums: When Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump for the Supreme Court in July- accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault were not far behind. At the center of the scandal was Christine Blasey Ford, a Professor at Palo Alto University who alleged that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a house party in the early 1980s with writer Mark Judge present.

Following an initial investigation which included the review of therapist notes where Ford had discussed the assault as early as 2012, her passing a polygraph test and the emergence of two other victims who shared their own experiences with Kavanaugh throughout high school and college- both he and Ford testified in front of the The Senate Judiciary Committee in September in order to determine if he was fit for the lifetime position he had been nominated for.

Ford- calm and collected during her televised testimony- answered questions and faced interruptions and outright misogynistic commentary from fossilized white men with grace. Kavanaugh, on the other hand- had a meltdown- going off the rails about his love of beer and getting confrontational with questioning. Despite all this, Kavanaugh’s nomination was confirmed by a vote of 50–48 in early October and Ford was continually harassed, threatened, and insulted by Trump & Associates, conservative news pundits- and MAGA-bots on social media.

And for survivors of sexual assault (myself included)– nothing made us realize the #MeToo movement still has more work to do than watching this unfold.

(Image via VOX)

The ‘War on Journalists’ was a very real, very violent one: On October 2nd, Saudi Arabian journalist and author Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his marriage- and never came out. Khashoggi, who had been highly critical of the crowned King and Prince of Saudi Arabia and was subsequently censored as a result- had been living in a self-imposed exile before reporting to the consulate.

When reports began to emerge that Khashoggi had been killed and dismembered within the building- the Saudi Arabian government did their best to shift the blame and deny the allegations being made. Following a CIA investigation, it was reported that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing- presumably due to Khashoggi’s vocal opposition to both the Prince and the King, Salman of Saudi Arabia.

In the aftermath, Trump- notorious for his hatred of the press and journalists- refused to condemn the assassination, resulting in even more backlash against him. Time Magazine, on the other hand- opting to defend a free press- made Khashoggi and other journalists who faced recent violence or imprisonment for their reporting their 2018 ‘Person of the Year’.

(Images via MSNBC and ABC)

Mother Nature made sure to cover all the bases- including a 4-month long volcanic eruption: No year passes without at least a few natural disasters or weather phenomenons- and 2018 was no exception to that rule. Apart from the aforementioned tornado that struck my hometown over the Summer (while I was visiting, mind you. THAT was fun)– this past year saw powerful earthquakes in Alaska, intense and deadly wildfires in Southern California, and a four-month long volcanic eruption in Hawaii that injured dozens and caused over $800 million in damage.

Most recently, the eruption of Mount Anak Krakatau last weekend triggered a nighttime tsunami that caught Indonesia off guard. Hundreds have been killed, many are injured, and search/recovery and cleanup efforts are still underway. CNN compiled a list of non-profit organizations that are assisting the affected areas- and you can review their efforts and make contributions/donations by CLICKING HERE.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed and wishing us all a tamer, safer 2019 when it comes to the weather and climate change.

(Image via Vanity Fair)

It wasn’t all bad news this year. We got another Royal Wedding!: I love a good fairy tale love story as much as the next person- especially when at least one (if not both) of the people are real and relatable. Such was the case when everyone’s favorite ginger Prince married down-to-Earth American actress Meghan Markle in a lovely (and televised) ceremony in the Spring.

Meghan- stylish, beautiful, charitable and outspoken- particularly when it comes to gender equality- was a breath of fresh air from the usual Royal Family headlines (i.e.- Kate Middleton is expecting quintuplets and Princess Diana has been spotted alive and well n Barbados, apparently.)

Although the tabloids were pretty much ready to pounce on her from the get-go- and more than one bitter old racist attempted to take shots at Meghan’s multi-race heritage and a prior divorce- the Duchess of Sussex continued to look flawless and happy throughout the remainder of 2018- and announced her pregnancy this past Fall. The baby (seventh in line to the throne) is due in the Spring of 2019.

(Image via ABC)

And some people were held accountable for terrible and predatory behavior: 2018 was the year that rapists, racists/bigots and brainless internet celebrities finally saw some comeuppance for problematic and downright vile behavior- some of it long overdue after years of abusing their power and celebrity status.

One of the biggest stories was Bill Cosby, after years of evading justice for drugging and sexually assaulting multiple women over the span of his career- was found guilty of three counts of aggravated and indecent assault in April, stemming from a 2004 incident that was still within the statute of limitations. He was sentenced to three to ten years in state prison this past September.

In May, comedian Roseanne Barr, no stranger to controversy and poor taste- tweeted a racist remark to Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to former President Barack Obama- a comment she later blamed on using/abusing Ambien. A vocal Trump supporter, many of the President’s die hard followers came to her defense (many of them the same people who called for the public execution of Kathy Griffin after her equally awful “beheading” video, by the way)– but their efforts were of no use. Barr was kicked off of her own ‘Roseanne’ reboot, later re-named ‘The Conners’- and publicly shunned.

While technology, social media and the internet have opened doors and changed the way in which we consume and deliver content forever- some of the unfortunate risks that come with the ease and speed of communication is that really awful, insufferable people can develop a following and go on to do some really stupid things. Such was the case with “YouTube/Vlogging” star Logan Paul (I’ll let you take a minute to look him up and cringe accordingly)– who faced backlash after a video uploaded on New Year’s Day depicted himself and friends coming across a dead body in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest.

Paul’s amused reaction to the scene resulted in advertisers cutting ties and his projects being put on hold. It also sparked a conversation about the type of content and role models younger teens/children were consuming and looking up to.

“Be Better 2019” is a motto I’m hoping more people embrace this coming year.

(Image via ABC)

We also witnessed a miracle in Thailand: While exploring a cave with their coach during a post-practice outing and birthday celebration for one of their team members in June of 2018, twelve youth soccer players from the local ‘Wild Boars’ team in Thailand found themselves trapped within the labyrinth-like caverns after heavy rainfall caused substantial flooding in the area and rising waters blocked their way out.

After a comprehensive search and rescue mission was developed, a team of skilled divers went into the waters in July to extract the boys (and their coach) one by one- each mission lasting approximately three hours as the children were fitted with wetsuits, oxygen masks and sedated to prevent panic- and maneuvered through narrow corridors with low visibility from checkpoint to checkpoint until they reached the exit to the cave and were transported to local hospitals for evaluations and recovery. The extraction of the team took approximately two days total.

Leading up to the execution of the rescue mission, a 37 year old rescue diver died after losing consciousness underwater while delivering oxygen tanks to one of the proposed checkpoints in preparation for the boys’ extraction.

On the brighter side- all of the children and their coach ended up being just fine. They have since gone on to make appearances on Ellen and were invited to the opening ceremony of the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires- and there’s rumors of a possible movie deal is in the works.

(Images compiled via multiple news sources.)

Unfortunately, we did lose our fair share of beloved and influential familiar faces this year: Just like wild and unpredictable weather- no year passes without the loss of cherished actors/actresses, musicians, public figures and influential icons- and in 2018 we said goodbye to some of the best.

Some deaths, like Stan Lee, Aretha Franklin and Stephen Hawking- came from natural causes or succumbing to longtime illnesses- while others, including a string of suicides by Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and Frightened Rabbits’ singer Scott Hutchison- shocked and devastated the world and brought discussions of better mental health awareness and support systems to the forefront.

May their work and their legacies carry on into 2019 and beyond.

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Of course, there’s so much more that happened this year- but those were the headlines and the highlights from 2018 that really stuck out to me and made a lasting impression when I first began putting this post together a few weeks ago!

But for some of the pop culture phenomenons, memes, and funnier moments from this past year that still make me grin- I created another HONORABLE MENTIONS section- much like I did in 2017!

– Wakanda Forever: Following the February release of Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’- the movie quickly became one of the most successful and acclaimed comic-book movies to date- and the ninth highest-grossing movie of all time. While there were plenty of memes to follow, the film’s “Wakanda Forever” quote and salute were inescapable- with everyone from athletes, schoolchildren and news pundits jumping on board. At one point, Michael B. Jordan- who plays Killmonger in the film- urged people to stop asking his co-star Chadwick Boseman to do the salute.  That’s how popular it was.

– Gritty was the hero we needed and deserved: When the Philadelphia Flyers revealed their new mascot- Gritty- in September 2018, it was met with mixed reactions. The tall, furry orange… thing- which looks like a googly eyed muppet- was initially mocked until crowds began to warm up to his appearances at games, antics at events, and how savvy his official social media account was being run. It didn’t take long for Gritty to become an unexpected socialist and antifa icon- with his likeness appearing on multiple signs/banners at protests against racism and bigotry around Philadelphia. More Gritty 2019, please!

– We were briefly entranced by a boy yodeling in Walmart: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” Andy Warhol once said- and I think 2018 showed how true a statement that was when Mason Ramsey, a young boy from Illinois- was filmed yodeling Hank Williams Sr.’s “Lovesick Blues” while donning a bow tie and boots in the middle of a Walmart. Once the video went viral- Mason was everywhere- from Ellen to Coachella. He recently released a Christmas music video, and was on tour (yes, really…)

– Toys-R-Us joined Blockbuster Video as a relic of the past: Although Toys-R-Us announced their intentions to close all of their retail stores back in March of this year after filing for bankruptcy in 2017- it wasn’t until the actual completion of the process and the closing of the final store on August 5th where the nostalgia really hit home for many people (myself included) who remembered buying our toys there in a pre-Amazon era. As more and more chain and/or department stores start to become outdated with the convenience of online shopping- I’m left wondering who will be next on the chopping block.

– ‘Queer Eye’ is back and better than ever: I was late to the ‘Queer Eye’ revival party since I’m currently binge-watching so many shows and trying to catch up on multiple seasons when I’m able- but I’m so glad I finally got around to watching ‘Queer Eye’ because the new cast and the heartwarming tone of the show is seriously a much-needed break from the insanity going on in the world these days. I’m already doing the “grabby hands” motion while I wait for new episodes in the coming new year. Yassss!

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And there you have it, everyone! 2018 in a nutshell!

Now, to say a fond farewell to this past year and welcome 2019 in style- I’ll be heading to NYC a little later on this afternoon. No, I’m not going to be freezing in Times Square with thousands of other people, thank you very much- but I *am* going to be watching the ball drop from my TV in a penthouse suite I booked in the Lower East Side that boasts an incredible view of the New York City skyline!

It’s going to be thermal pajamas, room service, and champagne being sipped in a California King bed for me tonight- and then tomorrow, before I head back to frigid Massachusetts once again- I’m going to be doing a bit of sight-seeing and shopping around the city.

Treat Yo’Self 2018 might trickle into 2019, I think.

Of course, I have resolutions- since I actually like to set both short and long-term goals for myself and enjoy the process of working towards them, tracking my progress, and seeing my results- but while my resolutions for 2018 were mostly about getting organized and budgeting/improving my financial planning a bit more (both of which I accomplished!)– 2019 is all about self-care.

Here’s what I got:

Get Healthier/Get Into Better Shape – Let’s just get this resolution we’ve all got in our minds and on our lists out of the way first since it’s pretty much mandatory at this point. The holidays are, as always- brutal- when it comes to sticking to diets and fitness regimens. After Thanksgiving, I pretty much said “screw it” and started eating whatever I wanted, sleeping all sorts of odd hours, and tried to convince myself that getting up to get the remote control counted as a form of cardio.

In 2019, it’s back to the grind- eating better, actually exercising the correct way(s), sleeping like a normal adult, drinking more water- and even taking multivitamins regularly. I’ve downloaded helpful apps to keep me on track, have nutritional (and delicious) recipes on deck to hold my interests- and have enlisted friends and family who also want to get into better shape as motivational partners during our respective journeys.

I’m really excited to see how different I feel (and look) by the end of next year compared to now!

Stop Putting Up With Bullshit – And Command Respect: I had mentioned earlier that by the end of 2018, I noticed I was being overtly forgiving to fair-weather friends and men I dated who were routinely flaky or downright awful towards me and disrespectful to whatever relationship/bond we had. Whether it was lowered self-esteem, my just trying to be polite and show kindness/understanding, or fear of coming across as heartless for simply “cutting people out”- all that changes in 2019.

I’ve already started the phase of distancing myself from people who have been detrimental to me, my mental health, and my growth as a person- and so far it’s been pretty great and really refreshing not to have negativity clouding my life or to feel as though I’m giving everything I have, stretching myself too thin- and not getting any sort of emotional support or respect in return.

2019 is the year I finally start loving/respecting myself again- and not wasting time on people who can’t appreciate me or the good I bring into this world.

Hit Up Some of The Places on My Bucket List: Nashville, New Orleans, Joshua Tree- all places I’ve longed to visit and explore- but up until now have never really had the opportunity to do so. While I still budget responsibly and make sure all my bills are paid on time- it’d be nice to scratch some of these locations off of my bucket list in 2019.

Even if it’s not all of them- one or two would be great! And now, with my recent accumulation of travel points from past vacations/excursions- getting to/from these places is looking like it might be a lot easier than before- and much less expensive, too!

The question is- where do I go first?

Get Back Into the Arts: You all probably know I love taking pictures and photography in general- but did you know I also love to paint? And dance? And design? All passions of mine that unfortunately fell to the wayside as I started to focus more on my legal career over the past few years- but with my recent work with the radio and with the theater in Pioneer Valley- I think 2019 will be the year there is a resurgence of my creativity and more opportunities to do the things I love and am passionate about while simultaneously helping others.

I’m so very, very excited to get started with everything! It’s been so long and I have so many ideas swirling around in my head!

And with all that being said- I think that does it for me! I’ve got to pack a bag and get ready to catch my train to New York. I’ll be taking the next few days off before I’m back on Friday morning with a full re-cap of my NYC/NYE adventure- but you can also follow along over at MY INSTAGRAM.

Before I get going, I just wanted to thank you- all of you- who have been reading/subscribing to Blondie Birdie this past year. I try my best to put out content that showcases or highlights my interests/talents and that will entertain or inspire like-minded individuals. It’s been an absolute pleasure reading your e-mails, comments, social media posts, etc. and I’m thankful that this little hobby of mine has connected me with people from all over.

I look forward to posting more in 2019 and I hope that you’ll all continue reading and corresponding with me along the way as we traverse the coming months ahead!

Here’s wishing you all a fun, safe and wonderful New Year! See you all in 2019!

xx

– Ashley –

My 10 Favorite Photos From 2018

Good Morning and Happy Friday (the last one of 2018), everyone!

Before we break for the weekend and I finish writing my recap of this past year- which will be up on Monday morning- I wanted to take a photographic journey through 2018 and share some of my absolute favorite pictures I’ve snapped over these past twelve months and the stories behind them.

Going through my phone’s camera roll, my tablet’s drive and my Instagram feed over the course of my Christmas break has been a delightful and sometimes nostalgic walk through memory lane. The people I saw! The places I traveled to! The things I got to experience! 2018 was the year I made “getting away” and sightseeing both home and afar a priority- and I was very fortunate to capture many of my journeys in various snapshots.

Of course- and this happens every year I’ve been participating in this fun little tradition across social media and on my blogs, past and present- narrowing down my wide assortment of photos and then putting them in an order I deemed fit or appropriate proved to be a challenge.

But I worked tirelessly- and I think these photos tell a beautiful story about my life this past year- and I hope you all enjoy them as much as I do.

Without further delay, here are my 10 Favorite Photos From 2018!

10. After The Storm (Worcester – October 2018):

During a series of wild weather in the Fall- which included more than one severe thunderstorm, insane hail, and tornado warnings in Central Massachusetts as the weeks wore on- one storm in particular, which hit as the sun was beginning to set on what had been an otherwise uneventful weekday- ended up delivering the most breathtaking visuals.

After being advised to find cover as quarter-sized hail began to fall in Worcester County- the tornado warning was eventually cancelled and I ventured outside to make sure the hail hadn’t damaged my windshield (it thankfully hadn’t!) This semi-intimidating visual of the storm moving away was what I saw, instead.

The dark, ominous clouds against the bright blue sky was one of the coolest- and scariest- things I’d ever seen.

9. Springtime in The City (Boston – April 2018):

Boston is one of those rare and fortunate cities that can look beautiful regardless of the climate or weather. Old cobblestone streets, beautiful brownstones and large, spacious parks filled with pathways and trees are lovely when they’re blanketed in snow, changing foliage or petals during Springtime blooms.

Such was the case this past April when I had ventured to Back Bay to run a couple of errands and happened to have a few moments to admire the trees that line the sidewalks blossoming as the warmer weather stuck around longer and Spring inched it’s way closer to us.

This tree in particular, blooming in front of a chocolate-colored brownstone and spreading pink petals all over the stairs- was my favorite.

8. One-On-One with Obama (Washington D.C. – May 2018):

While recovering from a night-out during a weekend trip to Washington D.C.- I found myself at the National Portrait Gallery while on a quest to find coffee- approximately ten minutes before the gallery opened to visitors for the day. Wanting to see the newly acquired portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama- I opted to put my caffeine fix on hold and check them out…

… And ended up being the first one in the building *and* the first one at Obama’s portrait. There was momentarily no line, and I got to really admire just how cool this painting was/is and how fitting it was for my (still) favorite President.

Side Note: Michelle’s portrait was beautiful, too!

7. The Bridge of Flowers (Shelburne Falls – June 2018);

During one of my Summer weekends out in the Pioneer Valley where I got involved with theater and dance and embraced nature and the laid-back Western Massachusetts way of life- I also made a stop at the famous Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls to soak up the scenery and snap some photos of the hundreds of blooms left undisturbed along the waterside footbridge.

Out of all the pictures I snapped that day- this one was my favorite. Between the flowers, the river, and the old houses and mills along the waterside- there’s a reason I spend so much time out in that area and I think this photo captures it perfectly. It’s a little piece of heaven.

6. Birthday By The Beach (San Diego – January 2018):

This past year I had wanted to spend my birthday someplace warm and sunny since nearly every single one leading up to now had been spent in bitter New England cold, sleet and snow. I wanted to celebrate another year on this Earth on a beach with my feet in the sand and the sun on my face.

I got my wish- and then some- with this beautiful sunset at Ocean Beach in San Diego the night before my birthday while I was out getting tacos and beer with longtime friends that live in the area.

What you can’t see in this photograph are how big the waves were as they crashed against the rocks. It was awe-inspiring and took my breath away,

5. Shadowplay (George’s Island – July 2018):

During a Summer outing on the water and a few miles away from Boston Harbor, my best friend and I made a quick stop at Georges Island where we explored Fort Warren and hoped to have an encounter with the infamous ‘Lady in Black’ ghost while crawling through darkened corridors and long-abandoned living quarters.

While we didn’t find any supernatural entities- we did find an old gunpowder storage room which was nearly pitch black if not for a small bit of sunlight that poured in through the entrance way. My friend snapped this photo of my silhouette while I was dancing around and otherwise making an ass out of myself- and I loved how it came out.

Note to self: spend more time out by the Harbor next Summer.

4. In the Hot, Hot Sun (Nevada – September 2018):

While spending a week divided between Nevada and California back in September- my WCW (West Coast Wife) and dearest friend, Kelsey, and I headed out to the desert to check out the Seven Magic Mountains roadside attraction/art installation miles outside the Las Vegas strip and to roast under the sun for a little while.

Sure, the art installation was pretty neat- and provided some shade at different angles-but the surrounding desert itself wowed me, too. I snapped this photo while disregarding a rattlesnake warning sign since it felt like we were truly in the middle of nowhere- and it was pretty awesome.

3. Takashi Murakami Exhibit (Boston – January 2018):

Trying to escape Boston’s snow, ice and bitter cold earlier this year- I ducked into the Museum of Fine Arts one lazy Saturday to catch a peek of the Takashi Murakami exhibit- among other works. The pieces- bright and fun and more than a little crazy- warmed me right up and were such an experience to look at as I went from room to room in the gallery.

This photo, where I had attempted to capture one of the larger illustrations on display in the gallery- was made even better by the family who ended up crossing and eventually standing in front of me. I thought their silhouettes, dark in contrast to the bright colors in the Murakami piece- ended up creating a very cool photo.

2. High Rolling in Vegas (Las Vegas – February 2018):

During 2018’s Super Bowl (which I don’t want to talk about…)– I was staying in Vegas for a brief vacation to visit friends and check out real estate. Splurging a bit, I booked a room at The Cosmopolitan- and the view from my room was nothing short of incredible. This photo, snapped in the middle of the night- looked like something off of a postcard- and was what I showed everyone and anyone who asked about the highlights from my trip.

The only downside is that after having such an amazing view of the Strip- I don’t think I can stay at any other hotel in Vegas ever again! I mean, how do you top something like this?!

1. Love of My Life (Colby Farm – August 2018):

In August, wanting to spend a perfect and Sunny ‘National Dog Day’ with my beloved Oliver (and my mom, who I also love very much)– the three of us piled into my car and headed to the famed Colby Farm to see their vast and endless fields of sunflowers while they were at peak bloom.

Between the flowers, the huge fields to run around in, and playing with other dogs who were also there that day- Oliver looked positively ecstatic. This was taken while my mom was holding him so I could adjust his leash- and I couldn’t stop laughing over how it looked like he was smiling.

I’ve since printed and framed this picture- both for myself and for my mom- and it is hands down my favorite photo from 2018.

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And that, my dear readers- is my Top Ten Photos of this year. So many fond memories and wonderful moments that I will look back on and cherish forever.

If you’d like to share some of your own favorite photos or memories from 2018- feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line! I’d love to hear about them!

But, for now- I’ve got to get some work done since it’s my last day at the office for the remainder of this year. I’ll be off on Monday and Tuesday- and I’ve got one grand finale of a post to share bright and early first thing on New Year’s Eve!

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend, everyone! Make it count!

xx

– Ashley –

Favorites: December 2018!

Good Morning and Happy “Hump Day”, everyone!

I hope that you all had a wonderful and stress-free holiday! Even though I’m presently back at work for the remainder of this week (yuck…) and still recovering from a Christmas feast-induced food coma- I can’t complain. I had a wonderful few days off that I spent with a lot of my family around New England. It was a long weekend filled with great conversation, incredible meals, thoughtful and generous gifts- and even a little bit of snow on Christmas Eve!

And now, with there being just a handful of days left in 2018- my attention is shifting to wrapping up this year’s reflective posts here on ‘Blondie Birdie’ and preparing for New Year’s Eve and my plans for 2019. It’s going to be a very busy- but very exciting- few days ahead!

Kicking things off in my “Summary of 2018” series- I thought I’d share some of my favorite things from December- ranging from products, belongings/mementos, TV specials- so on and so forth. By now, those of you who follow my blog should know that the photograph-able things will b featured first, followed by the miscellaneous odds and ends.

Let’s get right down to it!

This Prada bag- while not new by any means- was a treasured gift my father had given me before his death following a business trip he’d made to Las Vegas circa 2009/2010. Wanting me to step up my handbag game while simultaneously spoiling me-the bag (which still has it’s authenticity certificate stored within a pocket on the inside) was a total splurge.

However, the bag was lost during a renovation/move after my dad’s passing- and I thought for sure it would never be seen again. Needless to say, I was devastated.

So imagine my surprise when the bag was not only recovered- but returned to me- in mint condition earlier this month. I was so happy that I cried- and it hasn’t left my sight ever since. Isn’t it gorgeous? This is going to be my default Winter handbag for sure!

In the colder months, I’m going a bit darker and “smokier” with my hair color- adding touches of silver and deep ashy browns into my highlights and low-lights. I anticipate I’ll be a much brighter blonde in the Spring and Summer- but for now I’m really enjoying the sort of dark and mysterious vibe my current hair color gives me. It matches my mood and my wardrobe pretty perfectly when it’s cold out.

Of course, maintaining the “smoky” effect requires some work on my part in-between salon visits- so once a week I turn to this conditioner/toner from Kevin Murphy to keep my color looking fresh.

After washing my hair, and gently towel drying to soak up any excess water- I apply this clean-smelling conditioner from root to tip- and then put a shower cap on and let it sit for about 20-30 minutes while I use a face mask, or brush my teeth, or read a magazine. Then I rinse it out and style my curls as usual- and I’m good to go with vibrant, refreshed hair with sealed in color!

To go with my current ash hair color- I’ve also updated my makeup for the Winter season- turning to rich reds and deep berry tones on my lids and lips. I’ve recently fallen in love with the independent and cruelty-free beauty brand Beauty Bakerie– in particular their gel liners and Lip Whips- which are long-lasting, non-drying, and super pigmented while maintaining a reasonable price point.

This matte lip color (called ‘Raspberry Tiramisú’) and soft gel eyeliner (called ‘Belgian Biscotti Gelato’) are both bold purple/red shades that make my otherwise subtle and neutral outfits and makeup choices pop ferociously. I wear the color(s) out with friends, at dinner with my family- and when I’m feeling particularly brave- to work. And the best part is I get nothing but compliments on them!

If you’re curious what the lipstick looks like, by the way- I posted a picture HERE ON INSTAGRAM earlier this month!

And finally, the holidays means my car and my home consistently smell like Christmas cookies- even if I’m not baking or transporting baked goods. I carry this small, aerosol fragrance from Yankee Candle in my bag at all times to freshen up any space to make it smell like sugar cookies for at least a couple of hours.

Just a heads up- I’ve tried the Christmas tree/pine one in the past- and it is POTENT. It’s so strong. This one, while still powerful- is far less aggressive and won’t cause any sneezing or watery eyes the way the pine one did!

And now, with all the photogenic things out of the way- it’s time to talk about a few other things that made the final ‘Favorites’ list for this year!

– MUSIC/MOVIES/TELEVISION –

The ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Holiday Special – I’ve been a huge fan of Canadian comedy ‘Schitt’s Creek’ since it’s debut a few years ago, but this month saw their first holiday special take place- and my God, was it a masterpiece. The show is such a perfect combination of comedy gold and heartwarming moments- and if that isn’t enough for you to want to tune in- Catherine O’Hara is a GODDESS in it.

The past seasons are presently on Netflix- and I urge everyone to catch up ASAP before the new one starts in January!

And as far as the holiday special? It’s going to be a new tradition to watch in my family every Christmas season.

– MISCELLANEOUS –

Paintbox Theatre – Paintbox has made my “Favorites” list in the past, specifically during their Summer program- but they’re on here again following my recent visit to their annual Holiday Show. I cannot say enough good things about this company- who encourage compassion, literacy, inclusiveness and curiosity among children in the Pioneer Valley. I’m excited to be working with them directly in 2019 since they are comprised entirely of dear friends and lovely human beings. It’s going to be a blast.

The Festive, Fighting Family Yule Log – When I have family over for the holidays, I typically throw on a generic Yule Log video on TV (and usually one that includes some classic Christmas music) to have some background noise and visuals going on during dinner, gift exchanges or conversations- until a friend linked me to THIS ONE a little earlier this month. The 30 minute video features the crackling yule log and music, of course- but peppered in between songs are pre-scripted but VERY realistic familial arguments performed by voice actors.

For those of you who might be away from home during the holidays and miss observing any family dysfunction- you’ll love it.

I think that’s it for my December Favorites, everyone! It was a laid-back month with a few surprises and a couple of new finds I’ve been loving and using regularly leading up to and through Christmas.

But for now, I’ve got to get caught up on any e-mails or voicemails I received over the holiday break, and try to get a handle on my caseload for the remainder of this short work week. If you have any favorites from this past month you’d like to share- feel free to drop me a line!

Have a great Wednesday, everyone! I’ll be back on Friday!

xx

– Ashley –

Festive Foodie: Balsamic Cranberry Roast Chicken

Good Morning and Happy Friday, everyone! (Also- Happy First day of Winter!)

We’ve made it to another weekend- and it’s the one right before Christmas- which means a lot of people are more than likely going to be getting a bit bonkers with last minute gift shopping and/or preparing for travel and visits with friends and family!

Tonight I’ll be having a pre-holiday pasta dinner with my mom, brothers, sister-in-law and niece so we can eat all the carbs we want and watch a couple of classic Christmas movies together before it’s time to pack up the car and travel ’round the state throughout Saturday and Sunday to deliver presents to my cousins, aunts, uncles, best friends, etc.

Before I do that, though- I wanted to share one last festive recipe for those of you who may be in need of a quick, easy, packed-with-flavor entree to serve any guests you’re expecting over the next couple of days! If you like chicken and cranberry (and who doesn’t?)– this one is going to give you plenty of holiday cheer.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1½ cups cranberries, divided
  • 8 pieces chicken (thighs, drumsticks or a mixture)
  • Nonstick spray, as needed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus extra sprigs for finishing
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra sprigs for finishing

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, process the garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, soy sauce and ½ cup of the cranberries until smooth.
  2. Place the chicken pieces in a large zip-top plastic bag and pour the marinade over the chicken. Close the bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a large oven-safe skillet or casserole dish with nonstick spray.
  4. Remove the chicken from the bag, reserving the marinade. Place the chicken pieces in the skillet or dish, skin side down, and season with salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cranberries around the pan.
  5. Roast the chicken until the skin begins to brown and the meat is nearly cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Flip the chicken and brush each piece generously with the reserved marinade. Discard the remaining marinade.
  6. Raise the oven temperature to 425°F and cook until the chicken skin is crispy, 5 to 8 more minutes. Serve immediately.

I love a good chicken roast- and this one had just the right amount of sweet, tangy deliciousness to give it an extra kick of unexpected- but savory- flavor!

Christmas Eve is my mom’s birthday- where my family and I will be having yet another big, celebratory dinner- so I’ll be taking the day off from posting content to decompress and enjoy my time with loved ones.

I *will* be back on Wednesday, though- since it’ll officially be the countdown to New Year’s from there! I’ve got a few more posts to share before we enter 2019, after all.

I hope those of you celebrating Christmas have a wonderful, fun, safe and happy holiday filled with good friends, loving family, warmth and laughter.

And I hope Santa is extra good to you all this year!

See you next week!

xx

– Ashley –

“Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing, ring-ting tingle-ing, too…”

Good Morning and Happy “Hump Day”, everyone!

Today is my usual half at work (the day changes come January 1st for a couple of months- so I’m enjoying these mid-week breaks for now!) before I head home to finish wrapping my Christmas presents and start scheduling their deliveries to friends and family during visits and parties over the next few days.

I’m quite pleased with how I’ve managed to get my decorating, shopping, (most of) my wrapping, baking/cooking and planning done early and/or reasonably hassle-free this year- so much, actually- that I’ve had more time to enjoy seasonal activities and events I may have otherwise missed during last-minute gift shopping panic.

A portion of this past weekend, for example- was spent in an indoor “Winter Wonderland” with my mother during an outing in Western Massachusetts where I helped her finish checking things off her own shopping list and then grabbed a nice lunch together.

While Christmas is positively beautiful in Boston- and there’s so much to see and do- the crowds can get a little overwhelming at times. The Pioneer Valley is a lot more low-key, historic, and quiet. I’ve been spending a lot of time there and it really is just a lovely location to be leading up to the holidays.

During our day out, my mother and I marveled at rooms lined wall to wall with miniature villages, made a pact to someday purchase one of the 30-foot high Christmas trees that touched the ceiling, tried to find the perfect nutcracker to add to her ever growing collection- and resisted the urge to buy every single dessert-themed ornament we spotted on sale (and there were a lot.)

It was a really great, fun, and laid-back day- and we even saw a bit of snow in what was otherwise a rainy week/weekend!

This coming Friday, I have another seasonally and holiday-appropriate recipe to share (this time it’s a dinner entree!) before I break for Christmas. And then, much to my disbelief at how fast time is flying this month- it’s going to be all about looking back at December and at 2018 overall on Blondie Birdie next week- with recaps about some of my favorite products/items/odds and ends to close out the year- and my Top Ten Photos I snapped during my travels and misadventures since January.

It’s a lot to do and prepare for, but I’m excited!

Until then- here’s wishing you all a wonderful Wednesday. I hope the remainder of the day and this week is stress-free and full of festive fun and cheer!

See you all again on Friday!

xx

– Ashley –