Ashley Takes Manhattan–Part One

I studied all the pictures in magazines and books
I memorized the subway map too
It's one block north to Macy's and two to Brothers Brooks
Manhattan, I prepared for you

~Thoroughly Modern Millie

You know those moments in life when you wait a long time for something and in that time you build it up in your head to be breathtaking, brilliant and wonderful? With every passing day, the experience or place gets better and more special and you can’t help but have butterflies when you think about it or can’t sleep the night before it happens? After years of waiting and a month of anticipation, that is exactly how I felt about finally getting to New York City.

I was just a little bit excited when I arrived.

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Yes, that would be me skipping out of the airport.

My travelling companion was determined to make my first trip to NYC extra special which included booking us at the James Hotel in Soho. The staff at the James were incredible. Not only were they genuinely excited that it was my first time in the city, they made sure we had the best room available to us, provided me with directions, made reservations for us, let us use their driver whenever possible and even found me a blackberry charger when I realized I had forgotten mine; they really went above and beyond our expectations and made our stay absolutely wonderful. SANY5199SANY5196The hotel itself was stunning and our room was beautiful. I was in awe when we got into our room and then was blown away by the gorgeous flowers that arrived. SANY5195There was contemporary art throughout the hotelphoto (6)which made exploring super fun. The James is also home to David Burke Kitchen, where we ate following our arrival. I enjoyed some refreshing iced tea SANY5183SANY5188and a really fun salad which had me fuelled up and ready to explore the city.

Times Square took my breath away. SANY5190SANY5189SANY5192I probably stood there with my mouth agape and I think I was actually speechless (!) for the first couple minutes. It was just so alive and absolutely more spectacular than I ever could have imagined.

Being a musical theatre gal meant that seeing a Broadway show was a top priority on my trip. After hearing such amazing things, I was dying to see Book of Mormon. SANY5203Tickets were not available for us to purchase prior to the trip so we tried our luck at the lottery.  Well, us and probably 200 other people. photo (2)We didn’t win. #sadface

With tonnes of other fantastic shows playing, we opted for Catch Me if You Can and scored wicked orchestra seats. I love Norbert Leo Butz and was just stupidly happy to be seeing a Broadway show #ridiculoushappyface

After the lottery fiasco, we needed to grab dinner fairly quickly before the show started. I was open to suggestion as I knew I had some amazing things planned for the following day, so we headed to Mr. Robata for sushi.

I’m still new at the whole sushi thing, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t anticipating being blown away by the cocktail menu even before beginning our meal. I chose the nashi spice (vodka, fresh ginger, green tea, pear puree, garnished with fresh pear) which was unbelievable. There weren’t a ton of gluten free and vegan options on the dinner menu, but I was so happy with the cocktail, that it didn’t bother me that I was eating a pretty basic salad for dinner.

Especially after my dessert arrived.

photo (8)Our delightful server (who was so helpful, sweet and extra careful about my gluten sensitivity) was adamant that I try the Eggplant Compote when I told her that it was something I was considering and it seriously did not disappoint. It was pure #foodgasmic bliss! Cardamom scented eggplant over lychee sorbet with sesame coulee and pink peppercorns made for a party in my mouth with every single bite. And not only was the vegan happy, but Jer said it was some of (if not the) best sushi he had ever had. Amazing.

Catch Me If You Can was fantastic. Amazing performances from Norbert as well Aaron Tveit. The premise was similar to the movie, the music was stellar and overall I was thoroughly entertained. It felt surreal to be finally watching a Broadway show and headed back to the hotel feeling absolutely giddy and intoxicated by the city.

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Part two to include some amazing foodie and shopping adventures and a dream date with one of my favourite bloggers!

The End of the 52 Days til Summer

I feel like it was just yesterday that I started this little challenge and it’s been a lot of fun to coordinate and check in with ya’ll as we go through it together. Can you believe summer is already upon us?

Rather than issue a challenge for the week, I think it’s time for a little self reflection... Here’s what I’ve learned in
the past 52 days:

·The scale truly is nothing but a number. Feeling good comes from the inside
· If you’re not feeling good, don’t just sit there – do something about it
· A little bit of green juice goes a long way
· I will say yes to pretty much anything at least once (sometimes thanks to
Groupon and peer pressure and guarantees of giggles)
· When something small is bothering me, my inclination is to eat. When something really big is bothering me, I don’t want to eat anything. Interesting measurement of how I feel, but neither are a good idea
· I can work out in the morning and feel great all day
· I make better choices during the day when I work out in the morning
· Sometimes spin instructors say things to be motivating, but they really sound inappropriate... especially when you’re with your BFF at 7am in the morning
· Community support is integral to my success (which is why Weight Watchers worked so well for me in the first place)
· Being able to take a compliment is an important skill. Even when they’re from naked people


(And if some of these learnings seem a little bit random... follow me on Twitter and it will all come together...)


To celebrate the end of the challenge, I’m hosting outdoor yoga and a pot luck on Sunday June 26. You can check out the event invitation for details. It would be so lovely to see you there! So far there are 7 of us doing the class and potlucking afterward.

Yesterday my little sister and I enjoyed a belated birthday celebration and congratulated ourselves for all our morning workouts of late with a date at
Body Blitz spa. Ladies, if you’ve never been, I suggest you get on that. ASAP. You’ll leave feeling blessed out and zen and you’ll probably have an amazing time with your gal pals. Such a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

This morning I started summer off with a bang with a 7am Attack class. Not for the faint at heart, but I was definitely still smiling when it was over.

I'm excited for the summer and to continue all the good stuff I've been doing over the last 52 days: listening to my body, positive self talk, eating well, exercising and smiling. I've also got a lot to look forward to Toronto Fringe right around the corner (with
tickets for Cellar Hotel on sale now), Into the Woods coming up in August. I'm also heading back to NYC August 25-29 (I promise there's a blog post or two about my trip in the works) and heading back to Ashley's cottage for the August long weekend.

And then it'll be fall.

Thank you to those of you who participated in the challenge. I would love to hear about your learnings and what you're going to take forward into the summer. And if you haven't already, you should go check out my Nourishtea giveaway which ends on Thursday night!!

Tea Club Round One–Nourishtea

I started at my new office 3 months ago. It was weird getting back to the 9-5 grind after being away for more than a year. I had ONE whirlwind day of training with the girl who had been in the job before me (for 7 years) and then I was on my own.

At my old office, I had sat in a cube with my bosses to my right and directly across from me, with the VP on marketing to my left and the President right behind me. I often felt segregated from the rest of the office, but usually I was okay with that! I got along really well with my bosses and it just became normal to me. In my new office I was seated with a group of awesome gals and on day 1 I knew I was going to fit in, thanks to a gift from my super special friend Becki.

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I learned really quickly that my cubemates were obsessed with tea. And they all had matching tea mugs and I had one too. #winning

At least once a day we all gather in the kitchen for tea time, sharing our various teas and raiding one another stashes. There all had lots of teas from David’s, Tea Emporium, Herbal Infusions plus a whole lot of chocolatey chai. The girls were also really excited when I received an extra special David’s tea gift from a cute boy for my birthday.

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One day I made a joke about having tea companies sponsor us and the gals started talking about their dream tea list. We talked some more and somehow my blog came up and then BAM

Tea Club was born.216540_10150588719245604_559840603_18834974_2281583_nThe idea is that each month we’ll feature and review teas from one company and in some cases (like this one!!) do a super fun giveaway so that you can try the tea goodness too!! The tea testing is very serious and scientific around here; There may or may not have even been a spreadsheet created!! There’s 5 of us testing the teas pretty seriously and a few others in our office who join in sometimes. We’ve all got different tastes so between us you’ll get a pretty diverse group of opinions.

NourishTea was amazing for being the first tea company to get on board.nourishtea

We were so excited when they sent us a HUGE variety of their teas including ones we had requested and others that they surprised us with including: Midnight Campfire, Canadian Breakfast, Cresting Cranes of Legend, Sky Flies the Bird, Minty Igloo, Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls, Warming Camomile, Emerald Path, and Rose Pink.

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We were all really excited for Midnight Campfire when we read the description on the website. We were less excited when we opened the tea and took a whiff – it really smelt like a campfire!!

Amanda (who is also blogging about tea club on her amazing illustrated blog from time to time): Woah bonfire. It smells like the title says… and it is so pungent that it has stayed in my nose and made me paranoid that I smell like smoke. It's like drinking a pot of burnt rice. Which is fine. I do voluntarily do that on occasion.

Luckily things got better after the campfire.

Many of us loved the Canadian Breakfast tea. It’s a really classic black tea with a lot of warmth and body.

Kayla said: Smooth and very flavourful! Tastes as inviting as it smells. I love English breakfast teas, and I think this one is  going to be a favourite.

Amanda’s tea descriptions started to get more ridiculous as we went along but this one was probably one of my favs: It's like wearing a tea cozy as a hat and cuddling with a good book by a fire after a terrible day.

We came to love the simplicity of the NourishTea brand. Many of teas in our collections are fancy-pants with lots of components, but NourishTea sticks to the basics and does them well. Minty Igloo is a lovely, refreshing mint blend (that we decided should have been our next choice after the campfire disaster) Alessandra said: It's like a fantastically amazing winter storm is in my mouth!! I feel my insides are being cleansed! I like that it's a simple peppermint. Not peppermint mixed with pears, or chocolate, or nuts. Just simple peppermint. I'm totally on board.

The green teas were pretty awesome. We all really enjoyed Sky Flies the Bird (a genmaicha green tea with such a fabulous name) and the Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls (we’ve become a little bit obsessed with Harney & Sons Jasmine Pearls around here after I received some as a gift). We lovingly refer to the jasmine pearls as the jungle tea.

Tea is not only delicious, but it can also be really pretty.

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Overall we were fans of NourishTea! Yummy, accessible teas that are pretty and delicious. Love that they’re Canadian and it makes me excited that I’m seeing them in more and more stores in Toronto including the Big Carrot, Whole Foods, Sobeys Urban Markets and Fortino’s. They also donate 5% of their proceeds to Actions Against Hunger which  is an “international network committed to saving the lives of malnourished children and their families, while ensuring access to safe water and sustainable solutions to hunger”. All kinds of awesome.

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Would you like to be a part of our Nourishtea tea club?

I’ve got 4 Nourishtea prize packs to give away!

I’ll be giving away 2 via the giveaway blog and another 2 for my Twitter followers today and tomorrow. Be sure to check it out so you can enjoy the NourishTea goodness too!!

Nourishtea giveaway

Get Moving!

Summer is just around the corner and so far we’ve done a lot:

Week 1 – Reasons & Commitments
Week 2 – Do something that scares you
Week 3 – Eating tune up
Week 4 – More self love
Week 5 – Getting back to good habits
Week 6 – More water

This week’s challenge is inspired by the 2nd annual Walk It Challenge that I got to participate in on Sunday. walkit4I didn’t get a picture of my whole group because everyone was spread out AND my digital camera has died sadly but I think I saw about 30-35 of my members? There were about 150-175 of us in total doing the walk in the beacheswalkit3I wandered around handing out Bravo stickers to my members and the awesome staff at the Running Roomwalkit2Loved crossing the measuring tape finish line! walkit1Congratulations to everyone who participated and thanks for coming out!! It was such a gorgeous morning and I had a lot of fun chatting with my members in the sunshine. Watch Snap Beaches/Danforth for pictures from the event and maybe even a little video hello from yours truly?

Week 7 – Move More

This week I want to hear about your plan for activity! I’ve been seeing lots of great results on Twitter with people using the #52dts hashtag and feel really inspired!

My week:

Sunday: 5k Walk It Challenge + at least another 5k walk home
Monday: early morning spin
Wednesday: early morning class
Thursday: 2x bellydance class
Friday: early morning spin
Saturday: zumba + flow

What’s your plan? How are you going to kick things up this week?

Keep on Chuggin' - Week 6

It is no secret that I love me some green juice...



(Romaine - apple - celery - cucumber - mint - lime inspired by One Lucky Duck)

And after last week's challenge, I felt great after juicing every day again! I feel so great when I juice every morning. My hair and my nails thrive and I love starting my day with a healthy dose of green stuff.

While it's not officially summer yet, the temperature is certainly rising, hitting 34 degrees in Toronto today, feeling like 40 with the humidity. And while I'm a fan of beating the heat with gelato... I've also been striving to get in lots of water! Green juice definitely has its place, but sometimes we just need to go back to basics, y'know? That's why this week we're talking about oh-so-refreshing...

WATER!

While water is not a magical substance, it is definitely important. Our bodies are composed of up to 70% water and your water needs depend on how much you're losing through your life and day-to-day activities and with this heat it's even more important to stay hydrated. I personally like to go for a minimum of 2L (8 glasses) each day and challenge you to do the same this week.

"But Ashley, I hate drinking water"

Here are my top 5 tips to make water consumption easy-peasy:


  1. Start early - have a glass of water first thing in the morning (add some lemon and cayenne for some extra cleansing love)


  2. Take it with you - bring your water bottle everywhere you go! Make it a super pretty one and you'll be even more likely to tote it along. Leave it out on your desk or workspace so you can see it


  3. Change it up - I've become a big fan of sparkling water lately (VOSS is my fav, with grapefruit Perrier a close second) or try adding lemon, lime, cucumber or something fun to your usual glass


  4. Make it tea-rrific - homemade herbal iced tea is delish. I became obsessed when I was doing my Fringe show last year and we had to drink "sangria" daily. Make a big batch and keep it in your fridge. You'll feel extra fancy (and possibly very Southern) when you can offer your guests iced tea when they visit


  5. Use a straw - I leave a glass straw in the drawer at my office and I swear I drink water faster when I use it! Check out Meghan's super pretty signature straws - I picked one up at ReBoot and love it!

Do you have any tips to get in those 8 glasses a day?


Week 4 Update: There have been a couple of great posts in the blog world since our positive self talk challenge in week 4. Loved Ali's post on setting yourself free through choosing to love yourself and Sheryl's body image reality check post on Monday (can't wait to share with you guys how awesome Sheryl is in real life - NYC post is coming!!) I went back to bellydancing last week and for the first time in a long time I felt really great physically. So excited to be dancing again and so excited to be feeling the self love as well as thinking it.



In other fun news...


The Weight Watchers 2nd annual Walk It Challenge is taking place this Sunday June 12th at Running Room locations across Canada! I'll be doing it at the Beach location (1977 Queen Street East) alongside a lot of my members from my groups at Carrot & Trinity. We had a ton of fun last year and I can't wait to do it again! The walk starts at 8:30 and it's totally free to sign up. I didn't make a group this year as it didn't really do much last year (the Running Room wouldn't even tell me who was in my group) so sign up as an individual and come walk with us on Sunday! If you're heading to the beach location be sure to come say hello!

Ack, Week 5 - 52 Days til Summer

I haven't forgotten about you lovely people!! NYC was amazing. Recapping in a blog post this weekend with pictures of all the goodness. I want to move there. Week 4 of the challenge was pretty good!! Like any habit, consistent positive self talk is going to take me some time, but I'm consistently working on it.


Week 5's challenge is going to be very simple -- what's a great habit that you used to have, but have recently fallen off of? Mine is to get back to juicing every morning! When I was actively following the Crazy Sexy Diet, I juiced every day and maintained that habit for a long time. Then life got in the way and I stopped - gah! I feel incredible when I start the day off with a fresh green juice and I miss that buzz! June 1 marked day 1 of juicing again and the last two mornings I've enjoyed a One Lucky Duck inspired juice of cucumber-apple-celery-romaine-mint-lime. Oh so delicious!!


New activity calendar will also follow this weekend.


AND in June I'm planning an outdoor yoga date and potluck to celebrate the 52 Days til Summer challenge -- please comment with your email if you would like to join us! Look's like it's going to happen on June 26 in the east of the city.


Lots of fun coming up on the blog next week!! How have you been doing with the challenge so far??! Can you believe we're already in June?