February Festivies

What good is the warmth of summer,
without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
//John Steinbeck

Well, Winter is surely upon us in New England. We have about five feet of snow in the yard and the temperatures have been BELOW ZERO. I have been bundled up in so many layers that I don't think my skin has even seen the sun in weeks. But alas, on the bright side there is officially just 30 days left until Spring! February is a short and sweet month, and it is also Nick and my birthday month! My birthday is on the 6th and his is on the 9th, and being Aquarius is actually what drew me to talk to him the first time we met. He had a small wave tattoo (the Aquarius symbol) on his back when we were both with our friend groups in a hot tub in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, and in the spirit of making new friends and small talk, I asked if he was an Aquarian. Surprise- he was! And we were only three days apart at that. Well, 362 days actually, I am ALMOST a full year younger than him, but he likes to pretend to forget that. As a tradition now, since our birthdays are so close, we have done joint birthday parties and instead call it a "Same Age Celebration" since for only those two full days out of the year we are actually the same age. Last year we rented a party bus with all of our friends and went down to the casino for the night, and this year we had planned a winter weekend getaway at my Dad's cabin in Vermont with our siblings and a few friends. There are photos to come from that weekend in a bit but we really did not take that many pictures, we were too busy just having fun and relaxing with our friends and family. This February blog post is pretty much just going to be a random photo dump of all the miscellaneous things that have gone on the last few weeks. When I look back through them, the main theme turned out to be food! I guess February is all about staying inside and eating yummy comfort food in the warmth of the house. We are all hibernating and eating! Without further ado, here is a look back at sweet February thus far...

Nick made us a fabulous paleo chili as some warm comfort food for a chilly night! It was a REALLY good recipe, and we are actually going to make it for an upcoming Sunday family dinner at his house.
 Nick's Sister held the first Sunday Dinner, starting off a new tradition. Once a month, or at least every few weeks, one of the cousins in his family is going to host a Sunday Dinner. We have one coming up next weekend, and then the March dinner is going to be at Nicks. Kat did a lasagna night and I made about 80 of these peanut butter blossoms for dessert.
 My Aunt made us white chocolate peppermint martinis to go along with our baking and Sunday Funday- so yummy!
 Chocolate drizzle on top, looked slightly like worms, but was a delicious touch!
 Lindsay made chocolate candies with pop rocks, something she had seen at Hogwarts in Disney. They were really fun and tasty as well. Dogs and pop-rocks are also a hysterical combination, we learned.
 Said dog sleeping on the floor with her brother- this moment was too cute not to capture! Both snoring out loud and laying on a hardwood floor.
 Later on that week my Coworker and I decided to hit up the new-ish Bear's Smokehouse in Hartford, a BBQ joint. I had heard lots of good things prior, so I went in with pretty high expectations but boy did it live up to them! It was AMAZING! I definitely have to go back and try more of the menu. I got the pulled pork, and was feeling somewhat healthy so I went with the green beans and sweet potatoes as sides.
 And for an extra $.25, a MOINK-BALL had to be ordered.... a bacon wrapped meatball! Yes please! SO good. If you live in the Hartford are and have not been to Bears yet, get your bum there asap!
 We had a "blizzard" in which we all had to work from home for a day, so my Aunt decided to make us home made pretzels and home made cheese sauce. OH. MY. HEAVENS. Best pretzels we have ever had! They were a labor of love, but love them we did! She needs to open up a food truck, and these have to be included on the menu! I could have eaten 12.

 I went to a big fancy yearly work awards dinner for the construction industry, with almost 1000 industry peers in attendance. My company did amazing and it was a total sweep of awards! Many of our projects won for the different categories, including the most coveted "People's Choice Award". I love working for such a great company that sets a high standard within the industry. Our hard work pays off, and our projects prove it.
 One of the other project accountants and I holding one of the awards KBE received.
 And here is part of the project team for the Ellis Tech High School. A great group that I really enjoyed working with. These guys worked diligently and finished the project a whopping 9 months ahead of schedule, almost unheard of!



The next weekend, Nick and I decided to do something totally new and random. We had scheduled a "Full Moon Snowshoe Hike" in the Berkshires. It was held at Hilltop Orchards on the Mass/New York border. It was a huge 200+ acre property, and although it was absolutely FREEZING, it was such a clear night and the full moon was really nice. Neither of us had ever done snow shoeing before, so we had NO idea what to expect.

There was also going to be a bonfire at the end of the hike, so we were each given these two pieces of paper to write on that we would later toss into the fire as part of the bonfire ritual. We had to write something we wanted to attract/wish/dream, and then something we want to release from our life.
Everyone was getting geared up in the lodge/winery, bundling up was very necessary as the temperatures were well below freezing.

 Our guide took us on the hike, and I don't want to really say anything bad about her because she was a nice person, but there was a little too much voodoo-esque earthy crunchy chat for our liking. One too many "Mother Earth's" and "Father Sky's"..... I would have rather had the hike be more factual about the orchard or the grounds or even the full moons or moon cycle. Every time we stopped for one of her speeches, I was literally holding my breath and cringing with my eyes closed as to not laugh or show my eyes rolling in extreme fashion. But BESDIES that, the hike was really nice and snow shoeing was actually pretty fun and easy to do and made for a really good cardio workout. It was almost like cross country skiing. The orchard has 3 miles of trails for either snow shoeing or cross country skiing. It was really cool to be weaving in and out throughout the rows of orchard trees and into the woods and meadows. The views looking down over the valley from the meadow were really breathtaking, especially with the full moon casting a light blue glow on everything, it was really serene, romantic and beautiful.
 After the hike we stopped at the bonfire for a closing ritual and to toss our pieces of paper with our wishes and demons into it. Although the fire was raging, it still wasn't warm enough for us to stay outside very long.



 After the hike, everyone went back into the lodge to get warm and get out of the snow shoes. Hilltop Orchards is also a winery, so they had a wine tasting, fire, and live music going on inside afterwards which was really nice! We love looking for new and different things and experiences to try, and this was definitely one of them! Hippie-guide aside, it was something new and a totally different date night experience! We got try 6 wines each, and then we both picked the one we liked best and had a glass. We got a table and listened to a trio playing some great acoustic music- Van Morrison, Zeppelin, etc.!


 It was a fun night and got us out of the house and out for an adventure in the dead of winter, can't complain!
 We have started changing the chalkboard wall every few weeks at Nicks, and have started a hashtag #chalkboardchronicles on Instagram to document all of our different designs. I ended up doing this cute design for our birthdays and I think it came out pretty good! I have very little artistic ability when it comes to drawing, so I definitely have to admit that I "borrow" ideas from pinterest and do my best to mimic them.
 I got a lovely invitation suite in the mail from Chris and Cristina, featuring one of their photos I took form their engagement session at Gouveia Vineyards last summer. Can't wait for their wedding this April!
 SUPERBOWL SUNDAY! Can't tell you how many times the Super Bowl has either fallen on or around my birthday. It was luckily early this year so it was the weekend before my birthday. We had a giant feast of appetizers and football finger foods at my house. Everyone contributed something and we had SO MUCH good stuff to munch on!
 TOUGH loss for Seattle! And although I am a Cowboys fan, I kind of at least had to be happy that my home turf of New England took home the big win. Still can't get over that face on the right....
 Another FUN ride from home from work! This was white-out conditions, and I got stuck multiple times, including the bottom of my street and in the base of my driveway for about 20 minutes while we had to dig and dump kitty litter everywhere for traction. Why do we live here again?? I constantly need to remind myself.... and sometimes I don't really have an answer.
STUCK! Blocking the street.
 Oh you know, just SKIING down our street. No big deal... nothing to see here.
 With snowstorms comes more of my Aunts amazing cooking. Here she is making us a home made gnocchi which was OUT OF THIS WORLD! It was so light and airy and flavorful, I wish everyone could have tried a bite to experience the goodness. She even got the gnocchi roller on her trip to Italy, so it was very authentic!
The finished product, in a pancetta sauce!
 Thursday the 5th was the day before my birthday, and unfortunately my Mom and Stepdad were going to be leaving to tend to the passing of my Stepdad's Mother. She was 93 and lived a wonderful life! Her husband had passed just a month prior to the day. It was clear that they couldn't be separated for long after being together for 70+ years. A wonderful love story that most can only dream of. My Mom ended up giving me one of my gifts that morning because it was something I could use while away in Vermont for the weekend. I had really been wanting a faux fur vest, and she got me the perfect one! I wear it all the time now and love it, it's so warm and comfortable.
 Thursday night I headed over to nick's Moms house to celebrate the "February Birthdays." He has such a large family, so they often combine 3 or 4 birthdays at once and have a big dinner and present night. We were celebrating Nicks birthday and my birthday, along with his Grandma, Aunt Ann and Aunt Susan! We had a great Italian dinner, and all got to open our presents and make wishes blowing out candles on our cakes. Nick's Mom had a special chair for each of the 5 birthday people complete with our own balloons and a photo of us. I love that she makes holidays and events extra special!

 Make a wish!!!!
 Friday was my actual birthday, and at work my coworkers got me some amazing cupcakes, including this giant cannoli cupcake! It was delicious and it's always nice to feel celebrated at the office when you have to work on your birthday. I have a great group of coworkers who have become dear friends, and am very thankful for their thoughtfulness.
It's an inside joke but a month or two ago in NYC Nicks sister and I had ordered Moscow Mules and loved them. She went out a few weeks ago with her husband and wanted to order one again, so she asked if he could get her a "Mongoose Muffler". He replied no, he cant, because that doesn't exist. What she meant was to ask for a Moscow Mule, but it came out so totally wrong and made for a very funny moment. In a tradition of not letting anyone live anything down around here, we knew we had to create this recipe card for Kat that we would bring to the VT weekend as a surprise for her. We even took the time to carefully craft a recipe we knew she would love. And we now present to you all, the latest and greatest in adult beverages.... the Mongoose Muffler!
 
Friday the 6th was my actual 27th birthday, so we all headed up in a caravan after work to my Dad and Stepmom's cabin in upstate VT for a weekend getaway celebration. Lindsay and Mike brought this gift and as another perfect example of our families not letting anyone live any mistakes down, Lindsay wrote "Happy 27th Birthday Nick" on his gift, even though we all know he turned 28. This was a play on the fact that last year my brother posted an Instagram picture of the number 25 saying "Happy 25th Birthday to the best sister".... I was 26. Moral of the story is don't make any innocent mistakes in our family!! You will be reminded of them on a daily basis, for life.
I was so happy to have all of my favorite people gathered in one place for a fun and relaxing weekend in the White Mountains.
We stayed in comfy and cozy clothes all weekend and just ate and drank and played games by the fire.

Nick opening his gift from Mike and Linds- a big rubber boot mat he had been wanting for his new house.
My college roommate Deanna surprised me with the best thing ever- a Samoa Cheesecake. Samoa's are my favorite girl scout cookie, and this cake was to die for! Everyone agreed it was literally one of the best things we had ever eaten. She has always been so good at baking and making cakes, I think she should open a bakery!
AMAZING!
My cousin Jen made the trek from Eastern Mass!
With my best friend Lea in tow! SO thankful to have all my best buds with me to ring in my 27th year.
Making me take a birthday shot... ick!

Nicks turn for his birthday shot! Happy 28th babe!

We had a great first night just laughing and chatting into the wee hours. We woke up Saturday morning and headed to Littleton Diner in NH for breakfast. It is always a favorite stop for us!
Nick's "Dry Rye"- yet another thing that we will never let him live down.
The birthday kids!! Celebrating our "Same-age" day!


After breakfast we stopped at the grocery store for a few more snacks and beverages, and then went back to the cabin to play our favorite group game called 'Mafia'. It is an awesome game of strategy, coercion, and teamwork. We played about 6 rounds and it was a blast. After that we all started the process of getting showered and ready for a big birthday dinner out. I definitely had to sport my new fur vest- thanks Mom!

We went to our favorite brewery up there called Schilling, located in Littleton NH. They also have great wood fired pizzas and food. It's such a nice and cozy, fun and casual atmosphere- perfect for a bigger group without having to get too fancy. Nick got a nice beer flight to try.
The only thing we didn't like that night was our waitress- a total brat! But besides that, the food and drinks and company were fabulous!

My girls!
Amazing pizza, one of the specials of the night. A white pie covered in bacon, chicken, apples, spinach and maple syrup! Great flavors.
The whole group! Thanks to everyone for coming all that way in the snow to celebrate with us, it really meant a lot and we love you all!

Birthday boy and birthday girl!

Just LOVESSSSS some PDA! LOL, with the look on his face you would think I was trying to kill him!
Much better! My sweet date!
Mike and Dan took a polaroid and this is the end result- they are pretty "raw", in their own words. These two are cut from the same cloth and have a really funny bond/connection! I am really glad my family and Nicks family get along so well, it makes life so enjoyable and easy!
We headed home after dinner as everything pretty much shuts down up there past 9pm. We played some more games, including LRC, and just relaxed by the fire watching stand up comedy shows. It was a great and relaxing night, just what we wanted for our birthday this year. We woke up and I cooked up a big breakfast for everyone. We would have had mimosas but we "accidentally" drank them the day before... oops!
We hung out for a little longer and then decided to pack up and start the trek home as more snow was expected to hit later that day. No drive home is complete without a stop at Harpoon Brewery off of route 91 in Windsor, VT. We had a GREAT waitress this time (the boys may have even loved her a little too much), which was a welcomed change from the night before.

Yummy buffalo chicken sliders! Of course with sweet potato fries- my fave! It was a long journey home in the snow but well worth the trip! Thanks to everyone for coming and for making the weekend so fun and enjoyable for us. We will definitely have to do it again sometime.
Monday was my sweet Nick's actual birthday! We have done SO much over the last year with trips to Las Vegas, Austin, DC, Moosehead, and Hawaii to name a few! I made this Bday collage for him on Instagram- Happy birthday Nick! I hope 28 brings you all the best that life has to offer!
I headed up to his house after work to make him dinner and exchange our gifts.
I made some big New York Strip steaks, with parmesan asparagus and mashed sweet potatoes on the side.
It was very delish!
Nick surprised me with a GREAT birthday gift! He got me a large piece of foam board, a big national geographic map, a frame, adhesive spray, and push pins. We were going to make a big map to hang on the wall so that we can "pin" all the places we have gone together! This is something I have ALWAYS wanted and am so lucky to have such a thoughtful guy like him who remembered and helped me create it. We made it together that night, which made it even more special, and we can't wait to continue to fill it up with the places we have traveled.

The finished product! And we already have about a dozen places pinned! Thanks so much babe!
Tuesday night we celebrated my birthday dinner at my house with my family, as I had mentioned before they had to go to Pennsylvania unexpectedly for a death in the family so it had to be postponed from the previous week. In true Ashley fashion, I had to make up a "menu" for the evening with all of my favorites.
Champagne is always a must for me! We did a nice big family cheers!
My favorite dinner! Comprised of all of my favorite things- steak tips, steamed artichokes with butter, canned corn, and Annie's mac and cheese. Don't ask me why but I love all of these things so much! And to have them all on one plate is heaven for me!
To end the night my Mom and Aunt made us a big cake and we both made wishes and blew out the candles together.

We MAY have ended up doing some letter rearranging as well.... real mature. Al in all we had a great 5 day long birthday extravaganza! I think I'd like to make that a tradition and drag it out as long as possible... I love any reason to celebrate!
Other recent happenings included a -real- fire emergency at work! Everything ended up being okay, but we were outside in the cold for over an hour!
Thursdays I work from home, and my coworker is SO lazy! But very, very cute.
One of my other favorite gifts is this "Shit" bag my Mom got me from Fern and Fox Goods! They are a really cute small business, and a portion of the sales from everything they sell goes directly to the Cancer Research Institute to continue work on finding a cure. Almost all families are affected by cancer at one time or another, so it is important to help the cause!
Nick and I ended up having to celebrate Valentines Day a night early on Friday the 13th, as he had to work a double the next day, but I have to say it was one of my favorite date nights yet! We had an AMAZING meal at Max Amore, which was made even better because it ended up being free from a gift card I got when the dealership crashed my car (long story). We had appetizers of Speck and Sicilian Calamari, and then Nick had the salmon entrée and I had the pork chop- both accompanied by nice glasses of wine! We ended up going out to another bar afterwards called The Diamond for another drink. We had a great night of laughs and good conversation, I couldn't have asked for anything better! This is sadly the only picture I took that night... a lame selfie. Sometimes you are just having to good of a time to worry about taking photos!
I keep on my 'Small Business Saturdays' kick, by only going to local businesses every Saturday. This particular day I hit up SO G Coffee Roasters and Harpo's Bakery, both located in South Glastonbury and two of my favorite local spots. I love to shop small and shop local! We miss out on a lot of great stuff by constantly shopping at chain and big box corps- get to know your neighborhood and what it really has to offer!
It also was Valentines day so what better to do than third wheel with Mom and Step Dad on a shopping trip? Mom had gotten a New Balance gift card for Xmas and needed new sneakers, and my brothers best friend Kevin just happens to work there. So, we went and gave Kev some business, and Mom got a sweet new pair of sneaks!
On the left is my Step-dad with one of his new Instagram follows thanks to my sweet boyfriend... And on the right is my face after 40 minutes trapped in accident traffic with Mom and Dave on the way home. It wouldn't have been so bad but Mom was having hot flashes so we were essentially driving down the highway in a blizzard with the windows down... fun times.
Sunday mornings at home call for bacon and Mimosas made with Janie's (My best friend Lea's Mom) recipe. Always with ice, add a little triple sec, and use a straw! Delish!
Some Sunday puppy snaps. Sandee staring at me lovingly in hopes that she may score a piece of bacon. And on the right is an example of sheer boredom mixed with Snapchat.... painted dog nails.
Aunt Izzy made us a really good chili recipe using steak! It was delicious and the perfect comfort food for a snowy Sunday night.
Sleepy puppy cuddles are the best!

On Tuesday the 17th it was Fat Tuesday, and the official start to Mardi Gras in New Orleans! It also marked exactly ONE month until Nick and I head down to NOLA! We decided to have a special dinner, complete with margaritas as a celebration in anticipation of our upcoming trip. We decided to try a "fresh" margarita recipe rather than one using a mix, and now I don't think we can ever use a mix again... it was SO good! I am not big on sweet drinks or syrups, so this fresh take on the Marg was really good. The only ingredients are Tequila, water, fresh squeezed lime juice, and a dash of simple syrup (sugar/water). The only thing I want to maybe try is to use a white tequila next time to see if there is any taste difference.

Nick's "Bar gnome" made an appearance, but I claim that there is no such thing as a bar gnome... and he may be facing eviction soon.
For dinner I kind of combined a few recipes and came up with these Avocado-Stuffed turkey burgers with bacon and Chipotle Mayo, American cheese, tomato, and "in the grass" of course. Paired it with some crinkle cut sea salt sweet potato fries and boom- it was bomb! Definitely a keeper recipe and a more "healthy" version of a burger.

Here was the little menu I made for the evening! Like I said before- give me any reason to celebrate, and I will!
On Thursday evening I went to the home of one of the Photographers I have worked with since 2009, Jen Fiereck. I was her first ever second shooter when she was just getting started with her business full time, and I have worked with her at least a few times every year ever since. She has a yearly get-together with all of her second shooters and assistants, and this year she held it at her house. We had some great food and got to recount tons of wedding stories from the crypt. She also always puts together a big slideshow of the past years "Best-of" photos, along with behind the scenes shots of us working. It is a great way to get everyone together to chat and get excited about the upcoming wedding season. The following photos are from Jen via J. Fiereck Photography, if anyone in CT is looking for a photographer for any reason- she is your gal!
Friday Night I went up to Nick's again as we had plans to go out to dinner with his friend, also named Nick, who had trained him for his paramedic license. He spent lots of time in the ambulance with Nick and they have become good friends! Unfortunately Nick's fiancĂ© wasn't able to make it so I did not get to meet her yet but Nick was really nice and fun! We had a great meal at Max Burger and then my Nick and I went out in Springfield afterwards with his housemates to a bar called Theodore's. It was fitting with our theme for the week as the whole bar is decorated with New Orleans flair! They had a great live band playing and we just relaxed and had a few drinks with friends.
Saturday morning it was time to change up the #Chalkboardchronicles again to get excited for our ski trip to Killington next weekend! I have not been skiing at all yet this season, and with all this snow we have gotten hopefully the mountain will be in great shape!
Saturday evening I just hung out with the fam, and my sweet puppies!
And yesterday (Sunday), I went with Nick's Sister Kat to photograph her best friends newborn baby! Hopefully I will have some of those photos ready for a little post later this week, she was too adorable! Kat also received her wedding album in the mail that I had made and it came out really nice- it's HUGE!
How is that for a random (mostly) iPhone photo dump?! Been lacking motivation lately to bust out any of the big cameras, but hopefully with some fun things on the horizon it will make an appearance again and the blog will go back to having nice photos...lol! Getting through these last weeks of winter is usually pretty rough and there is not much going on besides hanging out on the couch in the warmth of the house- so photo ops are lacking. But Spring is on the horizon and I hope it comes sooner than later!

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