Seven Years Strong…

Seven Years Strong…

Seven years ago, in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 15th, 2012- my father, Michael- died abruptly and unexpectedly.

My dad, who was also one of my best friends- was one of the funniest people you could ever hope to meet and also one of the most generous- with his time, his energy, or money if he had it on him. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it and make you laugh while he handed it over. He had a wild, rebellious streak- and he could tell the most fascinating stories about his upbringing, his travels and the people he’d met for hours without repeating any of them. He lived a life and a half in such a short span of time.

My dad was also one of the hardest working people around- up at the crack of dawn to go to work every day and make money to pay for dance lessons, school functions, family vacations/trips, nice clothes and good food. Despite long hours- he never missed a recital, a practice, science fair or picking any one of his kids up from school or a function.

As my brothers and I got older, and started getting into the typical teenage/early twenties trouble- my dad was the voice of reason and understanding because he’d been there and had made those mistakes long before us. “If you’ve been drinking and you need a ride- you call me. Anytime of the day or night. I will come and get you.” And he did with me. More than once. And not once did he ever lecture me or yell at me for it because I had done the responsible thing. Instead, he’d stop to get me something to eat so I wouldn’t feel sick. That was the type of father he was.

When I tell people I was there when he died, their initial reaction is one of sympathy but also relief. The assumption is always the same. People knew my father had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. They knew he had undergone a serious, intricate but successful surgery to remove the cancer- and they knew he was going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments post-op as a precaution. The assumption is always that he died peacefully- surrounded by loved ones in a warm and semi-comfortable hospital bed. Maybe with a sweeping score playing as we all said our tearful goodbyes.

The assumption used to make me angry. “How DARE they,” I would think to myself. “They have no idea!” But with time and age comes wisdom and perspective- and I don’t get angry anymore because I know it’s what they *wanted* for him. They *wanted* it to be peaceful and painless and for my family to have some semblance of closure.

The reality of the situation was much more grim.

My father died from complications from chemotherapy and radiation- which had weakened his body to the point where his heart gave out. When I say I was there, what I mean is that he died on my bedroom floor after collapsing. Moments before, we’d had a brief but wit-filled exchange (as we always did) after I’d come home obscenely late from a night out with friends.

After his diagnosis- I’d opted to both come back to my family’s home and stay there to help take care of him and my mom- running errands, taking him to/from Doctor’s appointments, sitting up and watching late night TV and movies with the two of them on the couch. Quality bonding despite the fact that one of us was very, very ill.

That night- he’d been awake, alert, and wanted to know everything and how everyone was doing. He was excited that I had been out with my friends for the first time in a long time. It was the most energetic I’d seen him in days.

And then, in an instant- he was gone.

The strange thing about trauma is that we never get over it- but we find ways to process it and live with it in a way where we can function like a semi-normal version of ourselves before whatever happened to us, well- happened. The human mind, spirit and body has such a fascinating way to self-preserve itself for survival.

There are some parts to the night I cannot remember and honestly- I probably don’t want to- while other parts are as clear to me now as they were that night. My mother screaming and crying on the phone with paramedics after I’d told her to talk to them in order to keep her out of the room. My dog cowering in the corner because of the commotion. For some reason I remember how awful the bedroom lighting was. It made everything look yellow and antiquated.

I performed CPR on my dad since he wasn’t breathing and I couldn’t feel a pulse- the way I’d learned years and years earlier during a babysitting course where they had taught us as a bunch of young teenagers how to stop a kid from choking, or what to do if they have a seizure, etc. etc. I’d only used what I was taught once before when a toddler I was responsible for tried to swallow a Lego block.

She was fine, by the way.

There was a moment where my dad, having been unresponsive to my attempts, suddenly coughed up a weird black-colored fluid and I thought for a second that I’d been successful in my efforts. It was not the case. That was, from my understanding- when he actually died. The guilt and the image haunted me for years.

I didn’t realize the fluid was all over my clothes until later on at the hospital when a nurse- coming out to sit beside me in the waiting room- quietly offered me some scrubs to put on while I stared at an unfortunate-looking painting on the wall. I don’t remember if I ever answered her.

I burned the still-stained clothes weeks later.

Those memories are vivid- but I do not remember the drive to the hospital. I don’t remember calling my best friend to tell him what had happened (he does, of course.) and I don’t remember calling my boss to tell him I wouldn’t be at work the next day- although apparently it was something I did in my foggy state of mind.

I write all this not to illicit sympathy or make anyone feel uncomfortable- but to talk about how seven years has past and I am, in many ways- still traumatized. Although I no longer have daily panic attacks, dizzy spells, uncontrollable sobbing fits or punch-the-wall-bouts of rage- there are still some things that trigger a good cry out of me: A song. A movie on TV. Finding old cards or letters. Writing this- which I’ve had to stop doing more than once to shed some tears and wipe my nose.

The last thing my father got to see me accomplish before he became too ill to really go out and about was my graduating college- the first of his children to do so. He beamed with pride and had me take no less than 300 photos holding my degree alongside him.

But, seven years later- and he’s missed so much change and growth in our family. I wonder what he’d think of my new apartment, of my new neighborhood- of the friends I’m making and the work I’m doing. I wonder what he’d think of my brothers and I and the way we sit around the dinner table with my mom and how we all have such different personality traits but some that are clearly and most certainly inherited from him. I wonder what he’d think of my niece- his granddaughter- and how she acts exactly. like. my. brother did when he was that age.

And I wonder if he’d want my mom to carry on his dream of moving somewhere in the Carolinas and never having to shovel snow ever again. I’d like to think he would.

Some days I feel cheated- deprived of all the things a daughter should have with her father. He’ll never walk me down the aisle or dance with me at my wedding (if I ever take that plunge.) He’ll never come along on spontaneous road trips or try hole-in-the-wall restaurants with me anymore. He missed my turning thirty and he won’t be there to rag on me for turning forty, either.

My father will never get to see me become the woman I was meant to become- and that is the most heartbreaking realization of all.

But, as life goes on- as I move forward with the help of therapy and good friends and my tight-knit family- and time begins to heal some of those wounds- I know that the only thing I can do is live the life he wanted me to have and make it as adventurous, fun, successful and filled with as much love as he envisioned. I cannot dwell on the past- on my sadness or my anger or the “what ifs” and “what could have beens.” That is time wasted and all I have is right now, these moments- and the moments that follow.

Additionally, it’s worth repeating a lesson most of us know but sometimes need reminding of: be good to the people in your life that you love and care about. Cherish your time with them. Love them openly and unapologetically and make sure they know it and feel that love every day. We never know how much time we or the people in our lives have left here- and losing each other is inevitable. Make the most of the time you have with one another while you can.

It has been seven years and I miss my dad every single day. I would give anything to have him here- but I’ve made great strides in my recovery and in my personal/professional life- and for that I think he’d be proud. Maybe even more proud than he was when I graduated college. Prouder than 300 photos could convey.

This past Monday was rough- but it also marks seven years since I’ve moved forward from a life-shattering trauma- and I’m still here. So that’s saying something.

Love you, dad.

xx

– Pumpkin Pie –

The “Halfway” Check-In!

Good Morning and Happy Monday, everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. I had a wonderful couple of days that were spent both within Boston where I hosted my 12-4 Saturday show on Indie617– but also out in the Pioneer Valley with my best friend who came to visit through yesterday afternoon. The weather held up nicely until a series of thunderstorms rolled through last night- so I made sure to take him to a couple of great outdoor locations so he could drink in the scenery and the atmosphere.

A full recap of the adventures (with photos) will be up on Wednesday!

Before that, though- early June is typically when I like to “check in” on myself and note my progress since New Year’s Eve. The official start of Summer is just around the corner, 2019 is halfway over- and now seems like just a good time as any to reassess the goals/aspirations I laid out for myself back at the very end of December. I like to take pride in myself on anything I accomplished- and push myself a little harder on the things that I haven’t yet!

I copied my 2019 Resolutions list from my “In a Nutshell: 2019” post from December 31, 2018. Let’s take a look:

Get Healthier/Get Into Better Shape: As someone who loves food and enjoys a good “veg-out” session on the couch while I binge-watch Netflix and Hulu series- this one was admittedly a little harder to get into the swing of after the start of the year. But, now that I’m living in my own place and within a community that both values and encourages wellness, staying healthy and being active- it’s been a lot easier for me to find the time and motivation to make smarter choices about what I’m eating and to exercise regularly.

And honestly- with the views I’ve found in and around the Pioneer Valley since moving here- exercising outdoors is *SO* much more enjoyable!

Stop Putting Up With Bullshit – And Command Respect: I had started the momentum on this resolution near the end of 2018 after a disastrous trip to San Diego in the Fall and and on/off/on again relationship that left me more drained than happy. I began cutting people out of my life who were detrimental to me, my emotional/mental well-being and who were holding me back from achieving my goals- and I didn’t look back.

I’m happy to report that six months later, I’ve surrounded myself with truly wonderful friends I can count on and a guy I might not always see eye to eye with- but whom I’ve built a strong and trusting friendship and connection with and who I care for very deeply. The people who had hurt me, dragged me down, or tried to take advantage of me have all but faded into obscurity and it’s a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Hit Up Some of The Places on My Bucket List: I admit that this resolution is not one I’ve particularly accomplished or have been actively working towards. It’s been placed on the back burner, what with my recent move and everything- however I *have* been able to do some traveling to places like New York and most recently- Las Vegas and San Diego.

I’ve still got another few months to take that unexpected and impromptu trip to New Orleans or Memphis- so here’s hoping I’m able to pull it off!

Get Back Into the Arts: I’ve achieved this goal with a very enthusiastic “oh hell yes!” Between my work with Indie617 and PaintBox Theatre here in the Valley- I have been fully immersed in art, theater, music, creativity and self-expression. It’s been such a beautiful and inspirational journey and I find myself wanting to create my own work more and more with each passing day!

I’m sure living in such a diverse and creative atmosphere will keep me going strong with this resolution, too!

___________________________________________

Obviously, I still have some work to do to reach all of my goals- but I’m really happy with my progress so far. Between some of the completed/near completed resolutions and moving into a beautiful new apartment within this first half of the year- 2019 has been the year of big dreams and even bigger changes these past few months!

Additionally, I like to use the first few days of June for some serious self-care and reorganization. I scrub and dust my living space from top to bottom, make sure everything is spotless and fresh- indulge in a deeply moisturizing hair or face mask (or both if I’ve got the time!) and do some major clean-out of my email and social media inboxes.

I’ve found that with unsubscribing or blocking gratuitous e-mails from companies I had purchased something from months and months ago (and who have been contacting me non-stop ever since. Looking at you- Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret!) as they show up in my inbox- I feel so much better and less anxious whenever I check my e-mail because I can get right to the important stuff I *want* to read without having to worry that it was buried amid the coupon codes, advertisements for new merchandise, etc.

Overall, June is a month of self-reflection, self-improvement, and self-care- be it revisiting goals for the year, getting organized, or simply deleting a bunch of emails to de-clutter your inbox. Whatever and however you choose to “check in’ with yourself halfway through the year is completely up to you- and now is the time to do it so you’ll have more space in your schedule for fun Summertime activities!

And now that just about does it for me today, guys. I’m off to work!

Here’s wishing us ALL a safe, stress-free and laid-back Monday. To the work week ahead!

xx

– Ashley –

“Vacation, all I ever wanted…”

Good Morning and Happy Wednesday, everyone!

By the time you read this, I’ll be up in the air and en route to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada for a week away with my West Coast Wife, Kelsey! We’re grabbing lunch at our favorite spot on the strip before we make our way even further West to San Diego for a couple of days to catch a White Lies show and relax by the beach.

It’s a few days of sunshine, rest and relaxation that are long overdue for me given how busy I’ve been lately with my job(s) and my upcoming move to the Valley within the next week. I just need a little bit of time to unwind and not worry about things at the office, packing my things, replacing furniture, etc. I’m so excited!

I’m always packed early, and people have asked me how I’m able to prepare for a trip so efficiently given how busy I am most of the time- and I always say it’s because of a three-day, pre-travel packing/preparation plan I developed after years and years of waiting until the last minute and frantically throwing whatever I could grab into a suitcase the morning of a cross-country trip.

I just couldn’t keep doing it like that anymore- especially since I would almost always forget something important- so the system I developed (with plenty of practice) has been a life-saver! I thought I’d share it here, as well- in case anyone else has ever found themselves in the procrastination boat.

72 Hours Before Your Trip:
  1. Check the forecast where you’re going to keep track of any last minute changes in the temperatures, impending storms, weather advisories, etc.
  2. Begin planning your wardrobe/accessories (if possible, on a day-by-day basis) with consideration to the weather and start doing laundry to make sure everything is clean, dry, ironed or folded by the time it comes to pack!
  3. Make a checklist of toiletries, makeup or skin/hair care that you might be running low on and make an effort to replenish those items within the next 48 hours!
48 Hours Before Your Trip:
  1. Begin packing your shoes, clothes and accessories so you’ll be aware of how much space you have in your suitcase- as well as how much it weights- since some airlines will charge extra for oversize/heavier luggage.
  2. Prepare a travel itinerary to forward to a family member/loved one- just in case of an emergency or if you find yourself stranded during a layover or at your destination for whatever reason. It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’ll be/where you’re supposed to be in case you need help!
  3. Notify your bank/credit card companies that you’re traveling so you’ll be able to access your funds without issue. The sooner, the better- since it may take a bank/financial institution 24-48 hours to place a notice on your account(s.)
24 Hours Before Your Trip:
  1. If possible, check into your flight to save yourself wait time at the airport/gate. It may also help you secure priority boarding, or in some instances- a better seat!
  2. Pack up your toiletries, skin/hair care in a waterproof bag (just in case!) to put into your suitcase with your previously packed clothes, shoes and accessories. By the way- don’t forget any chargers for your devices!
  3. Lay out the COMFORTABLE outfit you intend to wear to the airport the day of travel- that way you’re not stuck tearing apart your suitcase filled with freshly folded clothing!
  4. Be sure to take a little cash to carry with you while you’re en route to your destination. It doesn’t have to be an obscene, extravagant amount- but enough to cover a cup of coffee or some chap stick so you don’t have to use your credit/debit card at layovers. These sorts of purchases can trigger a security alert on your account and cause issues moving forward.
  5. Pack your carry-on with the essentials- moisturizer, earbuds, sunglasses, a phone charger, a good book/magazine and some gum. All TSA-approved!
  6. Get some sleep! There’s nothing worse than having to go to the airport when you’ve pulled an all-nighter and the exhaustion is creeping up on you while you’re waiting to have your shoes screened by security.

And that’s my guide for a relatively stress-free pre-travel prep! I hope it helps any of you the way it’s helped me over these past couple of years!

I’ll be sure to check in a little later on this week during some downtime from my, well- other downtime- and I’ll have plenty of photos to share here and on my social media (like my Instagram!) so be sure to check back!

Enjoy the rest of your “Hump Day”, everyone! See you all soon!

xx

– Ashley –

Bloom Where You’re Planted…

Good Morning, Happy “Hump Day” and Happy (official) First Day of Spring, everyone!

It seems fitting that the season of blossoming and blooming would start just as so many exciting new opportunities and changes are happening for me/around me right now. I know I always briefly mention how busy I am lately- but I really mean it! I’ve been going non-stop!

Back at the end of 2018, I had mentioned a couple of new projects I was preparing to start working on and had admittedly been excited to delve more into the details when the time was right. One project was for a radio station based out of Boston, and the other was for a family theater company based in the Pioneer Valley. Considering both of those projects are essentially on opposite sides of the state- I go back and forth fairly often!

I also maintain my full-time legal specialist position and still make sure to find time to spend with family and friends- all of whom are thankfully very understanding to my occasional time restrictions- so with everything finally coming to fruition and all the smaller, more intricate details being ironed out- it feels like I can relax much more easily now!

So, what’s the news?

Well, beginning this Saturday- I’ll be starting my very own weekly show on Indie617 from 12-4 PM where I’ll get to play the music I love, talk about upcoming shows, recap recent events around the city of Boston, etc. I’m so excited since I simply adore everyone at the station and have been having a blast popping by for occasional sit-downs/chats over the past couple of months during the “Morning Glory” show.

You can stream my show online at the website or download the Indie617 app (it’s free- so no excuses!)

Additionally, I’ve taken on the role of Marketing & Publicity Director at Paintbox Theatre– a company I have loved and held dear for a very long time now. The work that they do for children and families in the Pioneer Valley is beyond admirable and I’m so thrilled to be a part of all the fun, crazy, and adorable things they have planned for their upcoming Summer season!

Of course, working across and around the state has sort of grounded me in the New England area- which is funny considering it was around this time a year ago I was earnestly and vehemently talking about moving out to Las Vegas/Henderson, Nevada- and as I continue with my year of self-reflection and attempts at bettering myself by learning from past mistakes and missteps- I think that’s one flaw I need to tackle head on: my eagerness to move to a new location- sometimes places that are thousands of miles away from everything I’ve ever known or worked for- without addressing the reasons why.

First it was San Diego, and my main drive behind that was because I wanted to be closer to friends (and yes, a guy I liked at the time)– but I had never stopped to really consider career opportunities or the astronomical cost of living out there. Granted, where I live is on the pricier side as well- but I can still live and support myself without stretching myself out too thin.

I had just assumed my career could be easily transitioned across the county- but that wasn’t the case.

With my planned move to Las Vegas, my intentions were more fine-tuned- I wanted to live somewhere warm, close to my West Coast Wife, and in an area where the cost of living was infinitely more manageable (and I still do so much!)– but being so far away from my family, my friends and restarting a career over in a part of the country where the turnover rate of the population is nearly non-stop was a bit intimidating.

Plus, financial setbacks throughout 2018 kept delaying the process- and now here I am- finally getting my momentum back.

While Vegas/Henderson is not off the table by any means- I need to rebuild my foundation, first- and I need to do it here at home and by utilizing the aforementioned opportunities/projects I’ve taken on to build up both my finances and my resume (should I decide to switch career paths at any given time. I have to show I’m versatile!)

That means making the best of what I have here (“bloom where you’re planted”) for the time being- which includes potentially finding a less expensive place to live within the Pioneer Valley or outside of the city so I can better accomplish my short-term goals- and gradually work my way towards my long-term ones.

With smaller plans in play and these new projects keeping me occupied and focused- I can say with all sincerity that I’m excited for the future and looking forward to what’s ahead without any nervousness, uncertainty or anxiety- something that plagued me in the past when I was trying to relocate/reignite my life and passions.

And hopefully the future will be warmer here in New England real soon!

I’m off to play catch-up after an unexpected day off from work yesterday- and a little later on this week I’m dabbling with floral print again. I’ll have the photos to show you all what I mean!

Enjoy your Wednesday, everybody!

xx

– Ashley –

Sex and the Single Girl…

Good Morning, Happy Wednesday- and Happy Galentine’s Day, everyone!

As I dig myself out of the aftermath of Winter Storm Maya (the snow actually wasn’t too bad. The freezing rain, however? That’s a whole other story…) and prepare to head back to work for the day- I’m reminded at all sides that tomorrow is actually the “real deal” Valentine’s Day holiday and then I’m subsequently forced to face my current relationship status- or lack thereof- head-on as I navigate my way through glitter-soaked Hallmark cards, boxes of chocolate, bouquets of overpriced flowers and bizarre, couple-inspired offerings at my local restaurants, bars and pubs.

I am unabashed when it comes to my affection for all things sappy and lovey-dovey. “The Notebook” is one of my favorite tearjerker love story movies. I get weepy eyed with joy watching elaborately planned proposal videos on YouTube- and on more than one occasion I’m sure I’ve looked like a living, breathing heart-eye emoji whenever a guy did something unexpected and/or over-the-top sweet for me. As sarcastic and quick-witted and as biting (and dare I say bitchy?) as I can be sometimes- I am a true hopeless romantic.

Which is kind of funny- considering most of, if not all of my past relationships have been anything but something out of a romantic comedy.

I’d like to preface this post by saying I have no intention of dragging or putting any of my ex-boyfriends or ex-lovers on blast here. With every relationship- good AND bad- I’ve gone through, I’ve learned a little something about myself and about what I want/need in my life and from the people I had chosen to surround myself with.

I also learned that through every hardship that came with certain, rockier relationships- I had deep and profound strength and resilience I otherwise never would have known about. I was capable of walking away from situations that were detrimental to me and my well-being. I was capable of finding solace alone, in my own company- and discovered that a relationship wasn’t a defining characteristic and wasn’t a necessity in telling the story of my life- and I also learned the importance of forgiveness when it was justified, reasonable- and actually deserved.

I could and did survive being physically assaulted by an ex in my early twenties. I could and did survive being manipulated and essentially used by a considerably older guy I had gotten mixed up with when I was still pretty young and impressionable. I could and did survive the breakdown (and the gradual, cautious rebuilding) of one of my longest and dearest friendships/relationships when said guy had given into the ways of perpetual, non-stop deception instead of being the honest, upfront and outstanding person he has continually and actively been working towards becoming in the years since things initially crumbled between us.

That last example is where the aforementioned “learning the importance of forgiveness” comes in. While some mistakes and people don’t warrant a second chance- and I’d never tell someone to “get over it” or “move past it” if they’ve been betrayed or hurt- there are still some instances of genuine mistake-making that can be teachable moments for everyone involved. And, depending on the person and situation- sometimes there can be redemption, too.

Ariana Grande wrote a song about being thankful for her exes- and while I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m thankful for past heartbreaks, arguments, messy splits, etc.- I can understand and agree with the sentiment of coming out of the other side of those shitty situations and being a stronger and wiser person for it.

So, as a presently single but casually dating thirty-something year old female with a less-than-ideal dating history- Valentine’s Day elicits a lot of mixed reactions from me and those closest to me.

My happily dating/engaged/married and otherwise enamored friends will say it’s a holiday that serves as a reminder that you should be actively celebrating the one you love. A lovely thought, no?

My single friends- some of whom are deliciously cynical and still plenty of others who are not- will tell you it’s a marketing strategy. A made-up “Greeting Card” holiday to get consumers to spend more money on frivolous things- and that celebrating people you love shouldn’t be reduced to a once-a-year reminder as you’re buying them a heart-shaped box of candy- which also makes some sense when you think about it.

To me, and it took years for me to reach this level of self-assurance and confidence- Valentine’s Day is a day to remind myself of everything I’ve been through in my love-life, express gratitude for the person it has made me into and the lessons I’ve learned throughout the process- and acknowledge that while I’m not jaded enough to think that finding a healthy, soul-strengthening and world-enhancing love with someone else isn’t a possibility- that loving myself is the priority and that my wants/needs should never be placed on a back burner or forgotten about.

One of my favorite quotes from Lucille Ball comes to mind almost immediately as I type that:

It’s simple and oh so true. The most important relationship you can have is the one with yourself- and if you’re not happy or satisfied with yourself as an independent person and where you’re at in your life right now- finding happiness and contentment with another individual will prove to be incredibly difficult. You really have to learn how to stand on your own- and enjoy your own company- before you can truly open the door to allow others into your life and your head-space and to potentially become a part of your world in a big and meaningful way.

Valentine’s Day also serves as a reminder that despite the pressure many single people face to “couple up,” “settle down,” and “find that special someone RIGHT NOW!“- that there is no time frame, no time limit, and no expiration date when it comes to not only meeting someone you’d want to possibly share parts of your life with and/or face milestones and adventures together- but meeting wonderful people, friends and connections in general.

Twenty-something year old me- who was still struggling to learn all of this and felt crippling pressure to be in the right relationship then and there- would be miserable on a day like Valentine’s Day (I’d also be buying a completely unnecessary gift for a guy, I’m sure…) whereas now- thirty-something year old me writes all this with a grin and is looking forward to the cheesy-ness- wearing red and pink and buying 50% off candy first thing on Friday- and is in a  much clearer, even-keeled frame of mind when it comes to sex, dating, and love.

And yes, I’ll still be watching “The Notebook” or “Sex and the Single Girl” (my favorite Natalie Wood/Tony Curtis rom-com!) within the next 48 hours. I have my traditions, after all.

Now get out there and enjoy yourselves, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –