If you follow me on social media, you may know that my grandmother passed away back in December of 2018 a couple of days before Christmas. Naturally, I was heartbroken. So much of the woman I am today is due to the immense influence she had on my life. She was a nurse and I became a nurse. She was the original world traveler and taught me the value of collecting passport stamps. As a toddler, she taught me the value of education, which inspired me to excel academically throughout grade school and enter a Top 20 University for college. Last but not least, my grandmother was the original fierce, fabulous fashionista! She was unapologetically “ON” at all times. Yes, she was the type to rock pearls and furs to the grocery store. LOL Furs were her best friend and she prided herself on her collection of fur coats, hats, and stoles. Needless to say, I’ve got it honestly. I get all of my bad and bougie traits from her. Grandma Ruby taught me well! 🙂
Keeping the legacy alive
The day before she passed away I decided to do a photoshoot with a vintage Saks 5thAvenue fur stole she passed down to me in 2015. I kept this prized heirloom tucked away safely in my closet for special occasions only. However, this day I decided to incorporate the heirloom and create a fabulous look with it—one that would honor her legacy and show her influence on my life and style.
An unforgettable moment
Shooting this look, I literally embodied her essence. It was surreal! As I stroked the fur of the stole, I felt her presence right there with me. It was as if she was reassuring me that she would always be there. I always knew she was proud of me, but I genuinely felt it in that moment. It was a moment that I would never forget.
Making her proud
Grandma Ruby tried to keep up with my blog as much as she could, but unfortunately she never got a chance to see the photos from this shoot. She passed away the very next morning. Her legacy most definitely lives on in and through me! You are looking at “Lil’ Ruby” (as she would call me sometimes). I am proud to honor the original Mrs. Cockrell.
Other ways to incorporate heirlooms into your look
Her heirloom means even more to me than ever before. If you have something that belonged to your loved one, don’t just sit it in your closet, incorporate it into your daily look! I also have a scarf from my great-grandmother that passed away that I use as a neck-tie. If you have a broach or pin from a loved one, you can pin on your blazer or on a beret. Every time you see that piece it will remind you of their love and support and wearing these heirlooms helps you to create a style all your own.
Not only is this look in honor of my grandmother’s legacy, but its the perfect look for a fancy night out on the town. Valentine’s Day is approaching and you don’t have to break the bank to look like a million bucks. Trust me! I found this top at a local Houston thrift store for less than $10 (amazing, right?!), the skirt was $10.50 from American Apparel, and the YSL pumps were less than $300 from a second-hand store (another great deal!). Remember, it’s not how much you spend that makes your look. It is how you put it together!
How do you plan to incorporate your family heirlooms in your next look? Or rather, what is another way you can honor the legacy of your loved ones? Comment below so I can hear from you!
I wanted to star this new year off by highlighting my favorite travel destination of 2018—Cuba! Cuba has always been high on my travel bucket list due to its rich culture, and because I’m a low-key history nerd with a deep love for historic sites and anything vintage. Naturally, I was excited to live out my 1950s and 1960s dreams. Cuba’s culture has been shielded from tourist influence and allows visitors a glimpse back in time. From riding in old cars to observing vintage fashion and dining in elegant paladars, I was living my best life. In this post, I explore the highlights of my Cuban experience. In a later post, I plan to share important practical information you’ll need for planning purposes (as a quick preview: yes, I felt safe during my time there and yes, as of the date of this post, it is legal for Americans to travel to Cuba under specific circumstances). For now, let’s go on a living spree!
Welcome To Havana!
My girlfriends and I flew into Havana’s airport on a Monday afternoon and headed straight for the money exchange counter located in the airport, where we exchanged Euros for CUC (Cuba’s primary currency). We took a private shuttle straight to our beautiful home for the week. Upon arrival, we were each greeted with a piña colada made with fresh pineapples!
Our “home away from home” was a recently renovated private residence with a breathtaking ocean view in the heart of the beautiful Malecón neighborhood, which is about a 5-7 min taxi ride to Old Havana and walking distance to local restaurants and bars. We were able to access Wi-Fi inside our residence for a small, daily fee. Every morning, the incredible house staff prepared an amazing breakfast, including freshly squeezed juices, eggs, fresh fruit, cheese, bread, meat, and pastries—all for less than $8 per person! FYI, everything in Havana is very affordable.
That night we enjoyed an elegant dinner at a popular, privately-owned restaurant called La Guarida. We had one of the best meals of the trip there and, in my opinion, the best piña colada. La Guarida’s magical ambiance, decadence, and spectacular view of Old Havana will take your breath away. I marveled at the castle-like mansion with its grand staircase, enchanting decor, and beautifully preserved walls. I highly recommend this paladar, but definitely make reservations in advance and don’t be surprised if you run into a celebrity or two while there.
Old School Meets New School
We began the day with the quintessential Havana experience: an “old car” tour, which we booked online through Old Cars Havana prior to arrival. Touring the city in old-school convertibles was pure magic! We stopped at major attractions like Revolution Square—known for the iconic mural of Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara, and as the backdrop for Fidel Castro’s most memorable speeches.
We also visited Fusterlandia, a unique, reclaimed streetscape covered in José Fuster’s fascinating and whimsical artwork. We learned so much from our tour guide about Cuban history and culture while enjoying the remarkable experience that is riding around in a functioning piece of history.
So You Think You Can Salsa
After the tour, we had an excellent, casual lunch at El Guajirito. Next, we explored the bustling city by foot and mingled with residents on our way to a private salsa class. Be prepared ladies, if you travel on foot, you may receive a proposal or two from a handsome Cuban suitor. Our salsa lesson was intense! We really thought we knew how to dance until our instructor challenged us with rigorous combinations that made for the perfect after lunch workout. By the end of the class, we had learned an entire dance, sweated right through our clothes, and even picked up a few, local phrases! That night, we enjoyed a lobster feast in Malecón at Atelier for under 20 USD (yes, you read that right). We also partied at the local club before calling it a night.
Cigars and Country Side
We took a break from city life and traveled to Viñales to tour the infamous tobacco farms. This trip was an unexpected bonus as we negotiated a deal with our “old car” tour guides the day before. Pro tip: negotiate everything—from souvenir prices to taxi rides and even tours! As part of the tour, we experienced the entire cigar making process from tobacco seed to leaves to cigar.
For the culture, we also learned how to roll and properly smoke an authentic Cuban cigar. There was even an impromptu rum “tasting” and a dance party during which we utilized our salsa skills. When in Cuba, do as the Cubans do! Overall, our Viñales experience was really special. We immersed ourselves in Cuban culture, had interesting conversations with farmers, haggled with locals in the town market, and ate lunch amid Viñales’ vast mountains and lush, green valleys.
“Must See” Spots
Listen. We did the absolute most on our last day! That morning, we took a walking tour led by Zoe, a fabulous Cuban resident I met through a mutual friend. Zoe, who is fluent in English and Spanish, was extremely knowledgeable about Cuban history, architecture, culture, government and all the “must see” spots in Havana. We started the tour in Plaza de la Catedral. This area is known for the older women smoking cigars, commonly seen in pictures and paintings. You can take pictures with them in exchange for a tip. Next, we walked to La Bodeguita del Medio, a popular bar frequented by famous patrons such as Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro to name a few. Their mojitos are a staple for most tourists, but they are a bit overpriced (5 CUC, while most restaurants charge 3 CUC).
Other epic moments in the walking tour included: El Floridita, known as the birthplace of the daiquiri, and Lamparilla Tapas & Cervezasin the heart of the city, where we had the best lunch of the trip complete with pineapple-filled daiquiris. If you want an unforgettable and informative walking tour, you absolutely must link up with our girl, Zoe (see the end of this post for her contact information).
That afternoon, we spent a couple hours soaking up our last moments in the Cuban sun at Santa Maria del Mar, the closest beach to Havana (about 1 hour away). If we had more time, we would have driven to Varadero, another beautiful beach about 2 hours from the city.
That night, we dined at Paladar San Cristobal, where Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined during their historic visit to Cuba ☺. The food was outstanding and I, of course, ordered the same meal as my FLOTUS. Before the trip, I had received mixed reviews about the food in Cuba, but everything I ate was fresh and delicious. I will say that traveler’s diarrhea is real, so I recommend taking GI medication with you and being super cautious about eating street food.
After dinner, we pulled together our best looks for Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a one-of-a-kind art gallery/lounge/dance club/restaurant/movie theatre where the cool kids hang out. It was unlike any place we had ever been. The experience was unreal and we had the time of our lives; we even spent a few minutes in VIP with an American actress and her crew. It was a pleasant surprise. If you have more time than we did, be sure to get into Havana’s popping nightlife by visiting an authentic salsa spot or a club like El Tropicana, which hosts cabaret shows.
Half Of My Heart Is In Havana
Although we saw and experienced a lot, we were not ready to leave! Cubans are so friendly, welcoming, and a joy to be around! Unlike other places I’ve been, the people there seemed excited to meet Americans and enjoyed exchanging stories about daily life and culture. It also helped that several of us, including me, were fluent in Spanish. Overall, I felt so blessed to take in just a few of the gems Cuba has to offer. I will definitely be returning to Cuba soon! If you’re considering a visit to Cuba, I would love to answer any questions you may have. Stay tuned for my future post on things you need to know before your trip! 🙂 In the meantime, please share this post on your social media and with anyone considering Cuba on their travel bucket list!
“The brand you are building will impact the world. So will your success story of how it all began.”
How it all started
When I started My Living Spree a year ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, what the blog would become, who would support it, or how I would manage it. All I knew was that God placed a calling on my life that would help me realize my God-given purpose. As mentioned in my first blog post, I felt an intense urge to move beyond my comfort zone and to express my creativity in a new way. I decided to go on a living spree that entailed doing anything and everything that came to me naturally. I wanted to work on improving every area of my life—mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Simply put, I wanted to live my best life from the inside out.
One year later
Here we are one year later, and I am immensely grateful for growth, fulfillment, and everything that manifested in my life as a result of my decision to abandon my comfort zone. I’m proud to say that My Living Spree has excelled exceedingly, abundantly above all that I could ever ask for or think about and it’s all because I said “YES!” to my purpose and allowed God to move freely in my life. Today, My Living Spree is not only a blog, but it is also a brand and a lifestyle. It is one of my greatest accomplishments to date.
The key to growth
I could give you the “Social Media” politically correct answer to growth (and I probably will in a later post just for your reference lol). But honestly, the key to real growth is believing in yourself, and not following an ever-changing algorithm. If you focus on external or superficial measures of growth, you will always have to change who you are, and you will never find your true voice. Instead, I learned to focus on creating content that I loved and having confidence in myself and my platform. No matter the odds stacked against me, including low or stagnant follower count, imposter syndrome, and self-doubt (to name a few), I believed relentlessly that I would defy and overcome all barriers to realizing my purpose. And I did. I knocked the analytics out of the park and grew in every tangible way you can imagine. I am extremely grateful for the growing community of people who genuinely love, support, and believe in me and my brand.
With your support and my faith, I landed numerous brand collaborations, magazine features, and partnerships. I sold hundreds of dollars in apparel and created a lifestyle brand—all with no prior experience. I attended New York Fashion Week for the first time as an influencer and blogger for an incredible fashion show. I say all of this to show you that it can be done! The key is to tap into the greatness inside of you and to hold onto it fearlessly, even in the face of doubt and insecurity.
Purpose over popularity
Although I am grateful for growth, the intangible results matter the most. All the external markers of a successful blog community pale in comparison to the countless messages I received from people who believe my daily devotional posts enhanced their prayer life; people who have explained how my fitness journey motivated them to level up and become their best self; or the people who have been inspired to experiment with fashion trends they never would have considered before. I’ve encouraged, motivated, and inspired people near and far just by sharing my story with transparency and being true to Ashley. Sometimes God uses your purpose to propel others into their destiny. Operating in your purpose is crucial because it can help others become who God destined them to be.
The growth that I am MOST proud of is the growth that I’ve witnessed from within. My life suddenly changed. I realized that God empowered me to deliver something that ultimately delivered me. Above all else, My Living Spree is a form of therapy for me. Through its transformative power, I am healing and allowing God to deliver me from everything that has ever held me back! I am rewriting the narratives of “no” and “you’re not good enough” that plagued my life. If you recall from this blog post, I was in a very dark place in 2016. The self-hate and insecurity I felt had seeped into every aspect of my life to a point where I didn’t even recognize myself. Today, as I reflect on a year of My Living Spree, I declare victory over every lie I was taught to believe about myself. I now know that confident, fierce, and fabulous Ashley was right here all along.
Transparency is key
I used to go back and forth about how much of my story I wanted to share with the world until I realized that this is bigger than me. My Living Spree is not your everyday lifestyle blog. Rather, it’s a “Life” and “Style” blog teaching you how to “live on purpose, in style.” Here, you will see the shine and the struggle. The glow-ups and the let-downs. As I motivate and empower you to level up, trust me I am doing the same. I realized that I have a responsibility that is beyond me. If I am to fulfill my purpose, I must be as transparent as possible about my journey to becoming everything God wants me to be. My prayer is that by sharing my story I encourage at least one person not to give up.
Yes, I am going to keep serving, slaying and educating on the latest in fashion, fitness, travel, and more! But, beyond that, I have committed to digging deeper and sharing more of my life and my journey to the woman I am today. The beauty of it is, I am not done. I am constantly evolving and becoming. Let me just say, it’s about to get real y’all. I promise it will be worth it, so tap in, fully commit and buckle up for this ride! In 2019, I am living life unapologetically! And I invite you to do the same. Let’s go on a Living Spree!
“I feel like I’m constantly worrying about the next part of my life without realizing that I’m right in the middle of what I used to look forward to.”
The Wake-Up Call
If you recall from one of my very first blog posts, I knew that 2018 would be different–and it was! 2018 was simply an amazing year. I can honestly say that I seized every opportunity that came my way and attempted to maximize my potential in every area of my life. I accomplished (or at least attempted to) almost every goal I set for the year. However, I realized that I never had a chance to celebrate myself and express sincere gratitude to God for all He had done. I never actually took time to let it all sink in. And finally, I didn’t consider my needs and wants. I was definitely grateful and happy, but I would immediately start planning for the next way to progress. I realized that sometimes we have a tendency to place so much pressure on ourselves to be who we envision we should be, instead of acknowledging and celebrating the fact that we are evolving.
That wake-up call prompted me to take a 21-day hiatus from all forms of social media. I knew it was time to unplug from the distractions, express gratitude, and be more present in the moment. Social media was a major distraction for me, so I knew that eliminating it would free up much of my time. I was so “plugged in” that I was draining myself. I found myself pouring into others before I would even pour into myself. I was burned out and depleted and we all know that you cannot pour from an empty cup.
My 3 week hiatus taught me a lot! I completely shut everything down and took time to look within. I received so much clarity, developed a new outlook on life and even developed a new morning mindset routine that I plan to share in a future post ☺. I dug deep and had some great reflections on this year and God revealed the following takeaways to me that I would like to share with you all:
You cannot pour from an empty cup. Fill your own cup before you pour into others.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Remember, Social media is only the highlight reel. Don’t lose sight of your journey by comparing your life to the “best moments” of others.
It takes more faith to stop, than to keep going. It’s easy to continue operating in dysfunction because its comfortable. Interrupting toxic patterns is a huge step because it forces you to know that the temporary discomfort will be beneficial in the end.
Social media is the handshake, not the end goal. Social media is a great way to connect with others, but you have to remember to focus on what you’re building for yourself (your self-concept, business, website, brand, etc.) It’s all about balance.
It is important to embody your brand—in real life. I’ll use myself for example. How can I say I am “on a living spree,” when I am not “living” in real life? We have to stay true to ourselves, our morals, and our purpose no matter what. If you notice you’re compromising brand integrity, make a change!
Gratitude is the key to living a powerful life. The more you’re grateful for,the more comes for you to be grateful for. Simple.
Don’t look around, look within. Don’t seek validation from others. “When your worth isn’t based on their claps, you won’t be broken by their silence.”
Self-care is also reclaiming your time. Everything will work again if you unplug it, including you. Take care of YOU!
Purpose over popularity will always win. Don’t get the popular circle confused with the winner’s circle. Focusing on your purpose won’t always be the “popular” thing to do, but it is always the right thing to do.
The only expectations you need to live up to are your own. Never feel like you have to live up to the expectations of others. Hold fast to your own beliefs and values and follow your own moral compass.
Above all, this hiatus revealed to me the evolution I have made throughout the past few years and I couldn’t be more proud! It is my hope that we quiet our minds and our hearts and allow ourselves to revel in our progress and process. No, taking a social media hiatus may not be the route for everyone to completely alleviate their distractions and reach within, but it was for me. However, I promise if you do take time to slow down and express gratitude, you will experience more fulfillment than ever before.
“Fashion is what you buy, style is what you do with it.” -Nicky Hilton
I love luxury brands and designer clothes, but I’m also a fan of mixing high and low! I call it balling on a budget. LOL. I can literally shop at any store in search of good deals on clothing that I can restyle and wear over and over again. When you’re on a living spree, you want to look stylish while still saving those coins! Plus, I’m a firm believer in adding value to my clothes and not allowing the clothes to add value to me. By no surprise, Fashion Nova is one of my go-to stores for online shopping deals when I want to create a luxe look for less. I love the saying, “Mix high and low, they’ll never know.” 🙂
One of my favorite items I purchased from Fashion Nova is the “Wild World Chevron Jumpsuit.” I scored it for a mere $26 using a 30% off discount code! I first saw it on celebrity Adrienne Bailon, who styled it beautifully. I knew the vibrant jumpsuit would be perfect for vacation-wear, but the long sleeves and pants also made it feasible as a transition piece when the seasons changed.
This jumpsuit is a current fave in my closet and here’s why:
I love color, especially pops of color. As mentioned in one of my first blogs here, popping a color is one of my favorite ways to make a fashion statement. Don’t shy away from rocking vibrant colors year round! Once the seasons change, you can add a black leather jacket or navy blazer over the shoulders.
Prints, shapes and patterns are definitely “my thing.” I love energetic, tribal patterns. The retro chevron print is actually one of my favorite style patterns, but this was the first chevron print I wore that also had all of the colors I loved in one!
Let’s just say this piece fit me like a glove! It accentuated the waistline and was super stretchy and comfortable, which is important for someone like me who’s stylishly on-the-go.
Dress to Impress
You could wear this jumpsuit anywhere! I wore it on date as well as a night out on the town. You can also wear to brunch, events, parties, etc. and make a fashion statement. As mentioned previously, you can add a leather jacket over the shoulder to add extra edge or even a hat for transition into the fall season!
High-low Mix Tips
When shopping at trendy stores like Fashion Nova, try to visualize how you can enhance the quality and look of the outfit. Remember, you make the clothes…the clothes don’t make you! Dress it up with cute accessories and a nice handbag. I decided to keep it simple and wear these gorgeous gold earrings from ZARA, added my Prada sunglasses and the infamous bamboo handbag.
Don’t sleep on Fashion Nova! They do have some cute items in their shop, but don’t expect the “best quality” in the world. You can’t go wrong with them for trendy clothing or last minute “cute” outfits. I guarantee before this year is over you will at least take them up on one of the many sales they have! Who can turn down a 30% off discount? It’s worth a try!
Don’t forget to join me on my living spree! Subscribe to the blog and follow me on Instagram and Facebook for all things fashion, travel and inspiration to live your best life! I would love to chat with you there and hear some of your feedback. Leave a comment below if you’ve ever shopped at Fashion Nova and created a luxe look for less! I want to your experience!