My 24 Day Challenge: Days 11 & 12

The Curse of the Weekend

Okay, that headline is a bit overly dramatic and perhaps misleading. I’ll come out with it – I love the weekends. Who doesn’t? Especially when it’s sunny outside, the BBQ is fired up and we’re spending time at the beach. But hear me out on this one. When I talk about the weekend as a type of curse, I’m merely alluding to the effects it seems to have on my eating habits.

With all of the goodness that comes with ending the work-week and having time
to relax and spend with family and friends, so too goes my mindset when it
comes to eating super healthy. Saying I stray from any work-week routine is an
understatement of gigantic proportions. I eat what I want and when I want on
the weekends (not in huge proportions, but all the calories add up!)

My saving grace is that I usually exercise like a fiend on the weekends and I don’t sit still for very long at all. I’m a certifiable wiggler, and the weekends give me more time to move about whereas the work-week means I’m usually sitting down. Usually we’re out of the house on the weekends, too. Saturdays are usually our “getting things done” days while Sundays are set aside for exploring as a family. We’ve ended up in some pretty amazing places just by getting in the car and driving. So yeah, Sundays are especially amazing. And, they’re especially bad on the waistline as I tend to not plan enough ahead to think about packing healthy snacks for the drive.

This weekend has been a mixed bag of sorts. We’ve spent it house-hunting. Seriously,hunting. And, with a wholly uninterested 5 year old in tow, it’s been a trying experience. It’s amazing how two people who live together 24/7 have such differing views of what the “perfect” house is. Hubby and I went through eight houses and while they all had their positive and negative aspects, there wasn’t  one we agreed on. I know, I know – it’s only day one. But still, I never realized we had such different ideals as far as homes go. He likes older homes, I’d rather pay more for something brand new. Lucky for us, home number nine is a keeper.

Before we even set foot in the last property of the day today we both had a feeling about the place. Once we went inside we were both in love with the place. With the yard. With the flow. With the neighbours. With everything. Next step, hopefully, is seeing what we can offer! Even if we don’t get the home we saw today, it was good to get out and see what is available in our price range and to see what each of us like when it comes to a house. Whew, one day of hunting down!

While feeling the ups and downs of house hunting I had a momentary lapse in dieting thinking and indulged in some naughtiness. Nothing earth shattering – but after two weeks of very simple, almost tasteless food, I was ready for some flavour. A bite of a raspberry cake was too tempting to turn down. I enjoyed every small morsel. And guilt? Nope, I don’t have even one iota of it going on in my head right now. Tonight for dinner, I opted for my home-made spaghetti sauce (filled to the brim with veggies, lean meat, etc.) on wild rice. It wasn’t as spicy as I’d wanted  as I’m seriously yearning for food with more zing – but it did the trick.

So yeah, day 11 and 12 are now over and I’m 12 days until the end of this challenge. Half way there and I must admit I’m a bit bored with the simple foods. Balance is truly what I am learning though, and portion control. Here’s to the second ½ of the challenge.

And to a rocking bikini bod ahead!

My 24 Day Challenge: Days 7-10

I decided to write about the past 4 days in a big chunk since they signify the proverbial “home-stretch” in the 10 day cleanse phase of the 24 Day Challenge I’ve decided to do in order to get healthier, leaner and to break bad habits (think chocolate at 10am everyday and snacks every night after dinner). Following on from my last post, I was pretty darn pleased with myself on Halloween. Not only did I not eat any candy (it was bountiful in my house on the day) I didn’t want o eat any of it. From here though, my drive to be 100% “on” with my eating waned a bit.

I don’t know if it’s the natural process of getting used to things or just plain being lazy, but when faced with some stressful situations over the last few days, I’ve fallen victim to the bane of all chubby chicks: stress eating.The first infraction on my diet since the two bites of donut I had on Sunday (yes, I haven’t forgotten that little chocolaty ball of fried dough) was thinking it would be okay to finish of a small bag of potato chips that my daughter didn’t want.

It’s amazing really how cutting salt, sugar and other additives out of your diet for a week makes your taste buds super sensitive to them when they’re reintroduced. Needless to say, I ate half of a chip and spat it out – it was way too salty. I’m amazed that I’d have been able to finish them last week. This week, they’ve lost their allure. And, although I didn’t eat much of the junk food, I got a taste for it and that small (and seemingly insignificant taste) set the scenes for me to start thinking it’s okay to “just have a bite.” Damn, a mental step backwards!

After the chip incident I went alright through the morning of day 8 and into the afternoon. I followed the plan 100%. Dinner was a simple affair – a lovely chicken breast, mixed rice and steamed veggies (I know it sounds boring, but I prefer this kind of fare). Hubby went off to touch rugby and Miss5 and I watched a few cartoons before I put her to bed. After 10 minutes of silence I heard sobs coming from her room. She was inconsolable and could barely talk through her tears. When I could finally get out of her what was wrong, my heart sunk. She’s missing her Nana who passed away in May and I think it’s just hit her that Nana really is gone forever. I tried to comfort her as best I could but she ended up falling asleep sobbing in my arms. Next stop, a chocolate Freddo frog.

In the short-term, I know this isn’t a huge set back. In fact, with 6 hours of hard exercise under my belt in just 4 days this week, I know I’ve burned the calories Freddo represents. In the long-term though, I wonder if I’ll be able to curtail this need to self-medicate with something sweet when life throws me curveballs. I think just being aware of what’s happening and how I tend to react is a good start, now I just need to find some coping methods other than sweets.

I’m looking forward to Day 10 tomorrow – the last day of the Cleanse Phase and the last time I need to take the fiber drink in the morning (it’s pretty gross, really). From here on out it’s 2 weeks of intensely watching my food intake. As it stands now, on the morning of Day 10, I am very confident that two more weeks of this challenge will have started a major transformation in my life back to living a bit more clean, a bit more healthy and in line with setting up good habits for life.

Roll on Friday – here comes another test to stay away from the takeaways tonight when Hubby and Miss5 chow down on their weekly treats. Updates on the next phase are soon to come.

My 24 Day Challenge: Day 6

A Spooky Time to be Trick or Treating

Day 6 of my 24 Day Challenge happened to fall on Halloween. Thankfully, as far as temptation is concerned, the fact that Kiwis don’t celebrate this holiday with as much vim, vigor or readily-available candy as Americans do saved me from myself. I am pretty sure that if I’d been at home surrounded by a plethora of candy corns and treat-sized Hershey bars I would’ve caved at least once during the course of the day – but I didn’t!

As far as a progress report on how I am feeling physically and emotionally, all I can say is that I am amazed by the amount of energy I’ve got. Usually I am literally exhausted by 9pm each night when I fall into a heap and doze off until 5.45am the next morning. Since about day 3 of not having soda, energy drinks, dairy or a lot of other refined products, I’ve felt like a whole new person. No, scratch that, I don’t feel like a whole new person – I feel like I used to before I became an adult with responsibilities and stresses and a tendency to put my health after other priorities in life.

Yes people, Momma Cass has been able to stay up past 10pm (for those who know me, I am serious here!) and enjoy more time with my husband after our little girl goes to bed. We’ve started watching a few new TV shows which we’ve wanted to see but I have never had the energy to stay up for. We talk more, fight less. Amazing how in 6 days just changing to a healthier diet has effected so many aspects of my life. I’m stoked and am hell-bent on continuing this cleaner eating and healthier living ongoing. And, lucky for me, I’ve got a big fan in my corner in the shape of my amazing Hubby.

Now, beyond the diet and mushy relationship babble, let’s talk about HALLOWEEN! Last night was pure magic. The kid in me that refuses to grow up was just as excited as the local kids to go trick-or-treating with Peter Pan (my daughter) and I. After borrowing the four young boys from next door to become part of our posse, I donned my full-body spandex suit, tied an American Flag around my neck and stepped out for an hour of fantasy. For the time we were out knocking on doors I forgot that I am so far from home at a time of year that is my favourite back home.

The smiles and the squeals of delight from the children made my heart soar. I still have a huge smile on my face thinking about how cool it was to get out and do something so American here in New Zealand. The best part of the night came when other adults of kids I didn’t know started shouting “Follow that American, she knows what to do!” I felt like the Pied Piper of Halloween.

I loved teaching people about a fun holiday – which is as much about being spooky as it is about fantasy. And, as an adult, having fun dressing up and being in the community was a blast. While we were out hitting the streets, my amazing hubby cooked me a lovely chicken breast, steamed veggies and some wild rice. Fresh strawberries rounded out a great night. And not falling onto the couch in an overly-full-sugar-fuelled-coma was sweet (pun intended).

And yes people, not even one piece of candy passed by these lips! Now there’s a win.

Next year, though, no spandex.
(maybe just a little)

My 24 Day Challenge: Days 4 & 5

Since days 4 & 5 fell over the first weekend of my challenge – I thought I’d update on them both as a package-deal. First and foremost I should start this out by
admitting that weekends are rough for me when it comes to eating healthily. If ever there was a time I struggle to stay away from cakes, junk food, ante
pastas (cheese laden – yum) and an occasional wine or cider, it would fall on the weekend. In fact, it happens most weekends. Thankfully I am a gym junkie,
so the damage done on the silly days gets negated during the week – but eating as if I deserve a treat on the weekend sure makes losing any weight difficult
to say the least.

Friday night was the big struggle for me, not having “a few” of my daughter’s takeaway chips was like winning a gold medal for me – silly, I know, but it felt good to stick to my guns for once. Yesterday was awesome. Healthy eating, two hours of hard-out exercise and a lovely dinner. Today, Sunday, was a mixed bag of good and bad. In the morning I attempted to hit the gym for an hour of cardio (which is usually easy) and only made it to 35 minutes before petering out. Low energy was the culprit. Obviously I need to learn to balance my energy better before working out. After the gym the family headed out on an amazing drive around West Auckland and all around the Kaipara Harbour.

The day was stunning. Blue skies, white-fluffy-clouds and gravel roads that ended at empty beaches. In the afternoon we ended up at the Parakai Hot Springs and spent hours whizzing down the water  slides at break-neck pace. It was fantastic. Here’s  where my first hic up of the challenge came into play – I didn’t pack any healthy snacks and as we left around 4pm I was VERY hungry. We stopped in Silverdale to pick up some fish for dinner on the way home and Hubby bought Miss5 a donut (A HUGE ONE) at the bakery next to the fish shop.

I usually don’t like donuts – but I caved. I had a BIG bite. Yikes! Thankfully it was chocolate (not my fave flavour) and dry. Krispy Kreme it was not. I know in the scheme of things (considering my great week of eating and
exercising) that this isn’t a biggie, but for me I feel like I now need to re-focus my efforts for the next 19 days.

Tomorrow is a new day and I’m ready to conquer it. That said, it’s also Halloween! I will be steering well clear of the treat-sized chocolates this year, and for good reason. Here’s hoping trick-or-treating is frightfully amazing and that people hand out apples instead (hey, it might happen, NOT!) All in all, the last 48 hours have been a win. One minor “oops” moment isn’t going to curtail my efforts to continue getting fit.

Bring on day 6!!!

My 24 Day Challenge: Day 3

This morning I was up before the dawn and ready to hit the ground running. It’s a TGIF (waa hoo, bring on the weekend) which means it’s my usual “Treat Day” – ruh roh! Fridays double as a good excuse to splurge on sweets and take-away food in my mind as well as in my home (it’s almost a cultural phenomenon in New Zealand, the Junk-Food-Fridays) so most of the day today I’ve spent slapping my own hands away from sugary treats and avoiding fried foods.

Just taking a step back, my idea of “splurging” isn’t typical. I don’t open a bar of chocolate and eat the entire thing – when I splurge I usually have 3 squares instead of one or two. And I don’t eat an entire bag of chips, just having a taste is okay. I can’t binge. It isn’t in me. Nope, I’m much more controlled in my sneak attack when undoing my own good efforts with diet and exercise!

Over the course of most Fridays I set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Bad eating Friday equates to a slippery slope of snacking for 48 hours. This means that I usually spend the entire week eating well and burning calories and then undo all of my good work in the last two days by eating too much of the wrong stuff consistently. So, having a healthy Friday today will hopefully turn into good living from here on out.

This week has been a bit rough when it comes to juggling all of the facets of life and fitting in exercise. The Rugby World Cup distracted me and Monday was a recovery day indeed. Tuesday was a great day back in the gym and Wednesday I made it to an amazing boxing class. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to hit the gym yesterday or today – so tomorrow it will be a run and boxing. Sunday I’ve planned for a run as well.

I’m learning to make fitness a priority again in my life and to not feel guilty about taking an hour to myself. Thank goodness for the man I have in my life (yep, I’m gonna praise my husband again here) – he makes sure I get time for keeping fit and he’s supporting this wee journey 100%. He’s even decided to join a gym himself and is playing touch rugby one night each week, seeing him getting more active makes me very happy. Not only is Hubby being supportive, so too is Miss5. She’s a great gym buddy and loves to dance around the living room to work up a sweat. What a blessing, this family o’mine!

So yeah, Day 3 has been as good as day 1 and 2 – perhaps even better because I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. And, just as I’d imagined, playing to my frugal side (this challenge cost me money) and my competitive streak (I hate not winning) has been the way to go to get healthy again. Beyond all of this though, I can’t wait to have cheese again.

Yum, cheese!

My 24 Day Challenge: Day 2

So it’s been near on 36 hours since I commenced my 24 Day Challenge – and I’m pretty stoked about everything so far.

The supplements and fiber drinks taste a bit like ranky cheese at times, but they remind me that the getting-out-of-shape part of the journey was the fun and scrumptious bit — not the getting back into shape part. This morning was fruit for breakfast and as a snack. More salad and chicken for lunch and a Spark energy drink to keep me upright in the afternoon.

I must admit, not having sugar at 10am and 2pm like I usually do is testing the old reserves when it comes to sticking to my guns – but I’ll be damned it the sweet goodness of candy corns will thwart my efforts in setting up healthy habits (and wiping out some bad ones) moving forward.

The thing that is making this challenge so doable, I believe, is that it’s not super strict. I’m still in the cleanse phase and there are suggestions for meals and snacks, but nothing that’s crazy or restrictive. My husband called me earlier and asked “am I cooking dinner for you, or just Booboo (our 5 yr old daughter) and I? Will you eat REAL food?”

First of all everyone, pick your chins up off the floor – yes my husband cooks (damn well, too). And my answer to him was “Yep, chicken and veggies and rice…” went down well, too, as he’s an adept hand at creating healthy, tasty fare and was just as stoked as I am to know that normal, healthy eating is what this challenge is all about. Not some silly week-long detox where you drink vinegar and eat cabbage. Yuck!

Regressing back to last night, I really enjoyed going to my boxing class and having a good amount of energy to really hit the crapola out of the bags. It’s amazing how skipping the sugar and the energy drinks really keeps one more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than normal (and for everyone who knows me – this is a HUGE feat! I’m ALWAYS bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!) Home from boxing, I had a pretty nice dinner BUT was pretty hungry afterwards – this is my personal Bewitching Hour. I usually snack a lot after dinner (naughty, I know). And the snacks are usually sugary.

I assumed the “hunger” I felt after dinner had something to do with this. That said, I fought off the urge to snack and had a water and my fiber pills instead. Not as sexy as raspberry jell-o and Hokey Pokey ice cream, but hey I’m a girl on a mission, right? Anyhow, I went to bed still feeling hungry and actually got up around 2am for a banana. That sated my hunger and I slept like a baby and woke up feeling as sprightly as ever – no exhaustion in sight.

Yep, so 2 days in and I’m feeling fab. I’m not sure if it’s all a mental game or a physical one or a meeting in the middle of the two – but whatever’s happening, it’s going well. I am tracking my weight and will also keep an eye no how my clothes are fitting me as we move through the next 3 weeks.

We shall see what Day 3 brings – hopefully not copious amounts of carrot cake (my favourite treat) or any falling off of wagons.

My 24 Day Challenge: Day 1

So, I’m going to be brutally honest with myself and everyone else and admit that the past six weeks (thanks to the Rugby World Cup) have been awesome and crazy all at once! They have also played havoc with my diet and exercise regime.

New Zealand opened The Cup with flair and, like most of the population of Auckland, I partied like a rock star to welcome the tournament alongside friends and family. With rugby matches happening for six weeks straight, and the party atmosphere that came with it, it’s easy to see how diet and exercise fell by the wayside.

Now that the Cup is ours (go you gorgeous Men in Black) it’s time for me to get my A into G and get to work. I’m making a plan for bikini season and setting goals for getting back to fitness. In my awesome wisdom (and it is AWESOME), I appealed to my frugal side when it came to committing to a program and decided that if I spent money on a “challenge” I’d see it through. With American friends visiting and singing the praises of Advocare, along with a good friend back home spurning me on – I paid $300US and set my sights on the 24 Day Challenge.

So here we are today – looking down the barrel of Day 1.

I was thinking I’d allow myself some leeway today and perhaps start later in the week. I really couldn’t fathom not having comfort food after hearing some upsetting news from back home. But, after allowing myself to crumble slightly, I pulled myself up by my proverbial boot straps, smacked the frown from my face, replaced it with a grin and forced myself to smile. It worked, and I’m off to a running start (literally).

Just as a bit of background to the Advocare 24 Day Challenge, the first 10 days are all about cleansing the body. This means cutting out things like dairy, simple carbohydrates, sugar and caffeine (energy drinks be damned!) Each morning for this phase I’ll be taking a fiber drink (it’s so thick you can chew on it) and having fresh fruit to kick start me for the day. During the daytime, I’ll be making sure to get more lean protein and raw/steamed veggies in my diet.

So far, so good.

Breakfast today was a supplement drink to get me going followed by an apple 30 minutes later and the aforementioned fiber drink. I had a banana for a snack before lunch and heaps of veggies and chicken for lunch. This afternoon it’s been another apple and some almonds for a snack. In the evening I went to a killer boxing class (thank you Shane Cameron’s Northside Boxing!)

Dinner was chicken, salad and mixed grain rice. I thought by this point I’d feel super hungry and be DYING to get my hands on my daily dose of candy corns and Malteasers. Lucky me, no sugar cravings yet. That said, not having something sweet after dinner tonight is really testing my devotion to the program – this I know is true!

Truth be told, I’m a creature of habit – some of them bad habits. I think taking the time and spending the money to invest in my health is going to be the kick up the backside I needed to really feel 100% going into the Silly/Holiday Season (which is Summer here in New Zealand). Cleaning up the body in a healthy way is very appealing to me as I’m usually pretty attentive to my diet and exercise regime.

But hey, can you blame me for the past 6 weeks? So many good looking rugby men completely distracted me – a girl’s gotta have priorities! Now my focus has shifted from Richie to getting fit (I lie, I’m always focused on Richie). Here’s to a successful 24 days ahead, and to a change for the better when it comes to eating habits.

Also…here’s to Summer. Man, I can’t wait for the sunshine to roll out!!!

An Open Letter to Money

Money.

Just saying the word conjures up visions of grandeur while wreaking havoc on my stress centres. Do I have enough of you in my life? Could you potentially transform me into an uber-me?

To most people, you’re the reason they get up and out of bed in the morning and head to the office, or the fields or the factory. You’re what we have lusted after for eons. We work our fingers to the bone for you. You know that, right? You’re the cause of much happiness, heartache, worry and hope – sometimes all at once. And you’re cool with this, aren’t you? It’s because you’re in charge. And, being the cheeky bugger you are, you smile because you know you’ve got the upper hand. And you’ll keep it.

Money.

We’ve all heard the old saying, the one about the Golden Rule: he with the gold rules. And it’s the truth, too. There will be those that deny their love for you. Those who somehow manage to escape your grasp. But, for now, I’m not one of them. I’m one of the crowd. And I, along with billions more, want and need you.

We will do anything for you.
We live for you.
We die for you.
We kill for you.
We love for you.
We cheat for you.
We work for you.
We sing about you.
We write movies about your appeal.
We hurt others to get more of you.
We believe you bring happiness.
We believe you make us important.
We dream about you.
And most of all, the majority of us, will never escape you.

Right now we’re locked in the grips of a global economic downturn. And, a big one at that. People who were once assured you were readily available are now seemingly wandering lost in this world. Searching. Searching for you. They think that if they find you, that they’ll find their purpose in life. But you and I, we both know this isn’t true – don’t we?

As I write this my mind floods with the smiles I’ve shared with the poor and destitute in Mexico. People with naught but a dirt floor to lie on and a warm meal once a day (and I’m talking the basics here – tortillas and beans) are happy people. Fulfilled people. Ignorance is bliss, or so the old saying goes, and the bliss of these people comes in the form of happiness for not having been brainwashed into thinking happiness comes at a price – and at an expense. A large one, at that. I think, if I had the choice I’d be torn between being ignorant of your allure and having more of you.

And, I’d like to say I could be like these people. They’re strong, confident and loving. They don’t sweat the small stuff and they make the best of how things turn out. But, I’ve been sucked in – to an extent that is. Would a billion bucks make me a happy camper? In all honesty, yes. I’d be back in school learning more about my passions (photography and design). I’d be reading more books. I’d spend more times with the people I love. I’d be travelling and learning languages by living in different countries around the world. I’d make sure my friends and family were secure financially. I’d follow the summer and get a tan – a good one, too. Yep, a billion big ones would sit quite nicely with me.

That said, I’m already completely aware of how lucky I am. My loved ones are healthy and well-loved. We all have full bellies and roofs over our heads. We splurge on holidays and nights out for dinner and massages. Money, you’ve been good to me. That said, I think we should cool it with our relationship. You’re a good time. A frat party on rocket boosters. You’re what dreams are made of. Let me rephrase – you’re what dreams WERE made of. At least for me. Yep, we need to break up for a while, me and you. You’re great. Really. It’s me, not you. I’ve just come to realize that life’s too short to spend anymore time than necessary obsessing over you. Go on and haunt someone else’s dreams for a while. Okay?

As for me, I’d like it if we could stay on speaking terms though. I’m not ready to cut you out of my life all together. I’m just ready to have other goals in mind than getting more of you for myself.

So Money, this isn’t “goodbye”…it’s more “see ya when I see ya”, I think it’s all for the best. I’m ready to concentrate on the good stuff. Not the fluff.

Cheers,

Me

An Open Letter to the Teacher Who Changed my Life

We’ve all got one person who, at some important juncture in our lives, has changed us for the better. For me that person was and still is Pete Nelson (AKA Nel-Dogg – his ghetto name). As my high school photography teacher, Pete taught me about the rule-of-thirds as well as rules about life and growing into a good adult. Over four of my most formative years, Pete went from being a teacher and mentor to a hero of mine. And, somewhere in the middle of this transition, he also became my friend.

I guess the best place to start when explaining how important Nel-Dogg is to me is the beginning. Photo class, in the high school I attended, was an elective course which you were lucky to get into in your junior year, most people finally got in during their senior year. I was, as luck would have it, an anomaly. After an error was made in scheduling my classes, the folks in the school office told me I could take art class or get an early intro into photo. Since my drawing skills are limited to deformed stick figures, photo was the winner on the day.

I remember walking into a class of seniors and juniors as a brand new freshman in high school, and truth be told, I was scared shitless. Barely fourteen-years-old, I was the small fish in a big pond. Thankfully for me, a smiling face was waiting to greet me as I walked into the classroom. Little did I know it would be this smiling face who would help me along as I found my way through the gauntlet of high school. I remember the first time I saw Mr. Nelson, he reminded me of a garden gnome because of his beard and the sparkle in his eye. He must’ve sensed my fear of being the youngest in the class, because he sat me next to him and proceeded to crack jokes. It’s been 16 years since we first met and he’s still making me laugh. From day one, I knew I was going to like the guy. Little did I know, I’d grow to count on him for more than tips on taking pictures.

After a year in Mr. Nelson’s class I started getting to school before the bell to get into the lab and print photos. I also hung around at lunch-time, and even after school. Looking back on it now, I spent A LOT of time with Nel-Dogg. I’m surprised he didn’t lock the door or tell me to move on, but I’m also thankful he didn’t. It’s no wonder I came to look up to the guy. But, it wasn’t just me that enjoyed time with Pete. On rainy days there was a contingent of a dozen or so of us who’d eat lunch in his classroom. It was like our own little haven out of the weather. A place where we could be ourselves and laugh without approach. And, it was a place where we enjoyed the company of the adult present in the room – this in itself was not a normal occurrence for teenagers! I cherish memories of lunches in the photo room.

Into my third year in photo class, Nel-Dogg started teaching me experimental photography techniques. While a lot of my classmates were just beginning the course, I was advanced – and Pete must’ve sensed the passion I had for photography. He also obviously knew I needed to be challenged. I needed to have the bar set higher than the standard. I needed more than the norm.

I think because he knew me so well, Nel-Dogg could tell when I wasand when I wasn’t giving 100%. I remember once getting a project back graded with a big, fat ‘C’ on it. When I asked why I had gotten a lower mark than others in the class whose projects weren’t as good as mine Pete told me “Cassie, I know and you know you can do much better than that. Go back, do it the best you can. Spend the time. If you do that, I will change your grade to match the effort you’ve put in.” I went back, started my project from scratch and worked super hard to impress Nel-Dogg. I ended up with an A-. That was awesome. The lesson he taught me on that day so long ago has stayed with me. I realized then that there’s no cheating in life. There are no shortcuts. When you work to your best and set the bar high, you’re bound to succeed. When you cheat, you only cheat yourself.

My senior year was one filled with huge highs for me. On the basketball court, my team excelled. In fact, one of the most vivid memories I have of our championship season was the night Pete showed up to watch part of a game. I’d been begging him to come watch me play for ages and one night, the night of one of our most crucial games of the season, he showed up! Seeing him at our most important game rallied me. I remember hitting a few jump shots and thinking to myself “Even if we lose now, I’d be okay with that because Nel-Dogg was here!” Along with the scholastic and athletic highs of my last year off high school, I was also filled with a sense of dread when it came to leaving my friends, my school, my home.

I remember talking to Mr. Nelson about my worries and fears a lot. He always listened attentively, then put me at ease with a little gem of wisdom about life and the adventures ahead. And, when my graduation day came – he was there, too. Smiling. Me? I wept. I didn’t want to go. Growing up was proving to be hard even before I’d done any real growing up. But, I packed my entire life up and headed to UCSB. I think Nel –Dogg was the first person I e-mailed after setting up my computer in my new dorm room. That first year of college was where my relationship with Nel-Dogg grew. When I needed advice, help, a joke or just someone to bounce an idea off of, I e-mailed him. And, he always e-mailed me back. I could tell he’d taken time to put thought into his replies, and knowing he cared enough to do so made me feel super special.

When I’d come home for holidays and over the summer I spent a lot of time just dropping in on Nel-Dogg and his wife Sally at their home. They only lived just up the road and I felt (and still feel) very welcome in their company. I learned about the local fauna and flora as well as local politics from Pete. I also talked his ear off. When I met my husband on a trip to Europe (marrying the Contiki tour guide is another story in and of itself), I told Nel-Dogg first, just to get his opinion and see how he thought my parents might react to the news that I was dating a New Zealander called Tex who was fifteen years my senior. Like always, Pete supported me and when he met Tex for the first time, made him feel just as welcome in his home and life as he’d always made me feel.

Fast forward two years and I’m living in New Zealand and am newly engaged. In fact, it’s only been an hour since I’ve had the ring on my finger. I knew without a doubt who I needed to call. I also knew what I wanted to ask him. Knowing that my Dad would be walking me down the aisle on my wedding day, I thought Nel-Dogg would be the perfect person to play a big role by being the celebrant. The idea of having Pete not only at the wedding, but officiating the proceedings of what would be one of the most important days of my life, made me smile from the inside out. I remember asking if he’d be our celebrant, and then a slight pause, and a happy “Yes. Of course I will!” from him.

Our wedding day was amazing, and when I gave birth to my daughter 11 months later, it was Sally and Pete who came to visit Chelsea and I. My daughter is now five-years-old and I’ve moved to New Zealand full-time. Each year though, I go home to California for a month. When I’m home the first stop I tend to make is up that familiar driveway which leads to Nel-Dogg’s front door. I cherish the time I spend with him, just sitting and talking about anything and everything. He’s more to me than a teacher or a friend, he really has become my hero.

Even though we’re separated by a lot of distance and time, I find myself often thinking “I wonder in Nel-Dogg would like this image…I wonder what he’d say about this…I wonder if he’d laugh at this joke…”

Nel-Dogg, you’re a true light in this world, and in my life you’ve shone brighter than the sun. Especially in the times when I’ve needed someone firmly in my corner. I hope this letter to you sums up just how much I care for you and just how thankful I am to have been that freshman anomaly who was sent into your classroom, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being an anomaly yourself. For being a friend. For allowing me to be yours. It’s funny how certain people can change the way others see themselves. Thanks to you, my sense of self is a positive one. I don’t take short-cuts and I work my butt off to make sure every project, goal and photo is my 100% best.

I think of you more than you’ll ever know and carry your wisdom with me in my back pocket as I make my way through this world. I cherish our talks, those runs in the “outback” and all of the time you took in teaching me about capturing images on film. See you when we’re home next.

And…something I can’t say enough to you:

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

Love,

The Puppy

An Open Letter to Happiness

Dear Happiness,

How are you today? Wait, don’t answer that. I can see your reply written all over your face. It’s that wide grin of yours. The sparkle in your eyes. The click in your heels. The cadence of your laugh. You’re the one who makes being alive fun. You’re my happy-pill, my wonder-drug and my anti-frown. Yes happiness, you’ve been good to me thus far in life. And I just thought you deserved a hearty pat on the back for all of the great times we’ve had together.

I have always been amazed by the great lengths people go to find you. They spend their money of self-help books that are aimed at finding you. They work their fingers to the bone to be able to afford you. But while many people believe you to be ever-elusive, I believe the exact opposite. While they’re so busy searching for you they’re overlooking the fact that you’re in the brush strokes, as well as the larger picture. Yes Happiness, you’re everywhere – hidden right in plain sight. You’re in those first rays of light when a new day dawns. In those perfectly round tiny drops of dew on spring grass. You’re in the wonder of discovery. In the chorus to a favourite song. In the win of a hard fought game. Basically, once we open our eyes and our beings to you, you’re there – a silver lining behind every storm cloud on the horizon.

Since you and I get on so well, and since you’ve always been so kind in kicking any sadness, grief or stress in my life to the curb, I thought I’d let everyone else in on some of the secrets to finding you, Happiness.

First and foremost, I’lI start out by saying that I am completely aware that finding happiness is an individual pursuit. The journey towards being a glass-is-half-full person is a completely singular endeavour for each and every one of us. So sharing the things in life that make me happy might be a good place start.

How I find Happiness

a. I actively court it.
To me, being happy takes some wooing. You need to sweet-talk fun, cultivate inspiration and actively look forward to each new memory to keep your relationship with Happiness fresh and new. Kind of like marriage, and then some.

b. I embrace it.
Some people wouldn’t know what Happiness was if it walked up to them, looked them in the eye, smiled and then punched them in the moosh. Yep, it seems to me that some people are just bound and determined to be un-happy. It’s a choice either way. For me, I choose to embrace Happiness.

c. I surround myself with love.
Yeah, that sounds pretty darn corny, but hear me out. What I mean by this is that I spend my time and emotions on the people I love most. We’re only here for a very finite time, I want to spend my time with people who lift me up and make me feel like a million bucks. Drama, negativity, lies and all other anti-happy auras are not allowed in my life.

d.  I enjoy people.
Yep, this is true. Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you that I talk to anyone and everyone. More importantly, I listen to others. You’d be amazed at how fulfilling it is simply getting to know someone and learning a bit about their journey – sometimes all it takes is five minutes to make a friend for life. Knowing that makes me super happy.

e. I find wonder in everything.
It’s true. I find wonder in how the constellation Orion is upside-down here in New Zealand as compared to my native California – I sometimes spend hours just staring up at the night sky in wonderment of this. I also think that the blazingly brilliant colour of green of the Springtime moss on our outdoor steps is something that dreams are made of. Nature and the weather never cease to amaze me. And the depth of human nature and kindness also keep me smiling.

From here I think there’s merit is mentioning that, although the above examples are of how I personally find you, Happiness, I think I’ve come up with some good advice to share about different ways to simply be happy, as well as steps towards making your life a bit more laugh-until-you-snort-worthy. Most of these little bits of gold are things most people have probably heard before or have thought of, but I thought I’d put my own two-cents worth in on the subject since Happiness and I are bosom-buddies and have been for thirty years now.

Ways to find Happiness

a. Find it through others.
By this I don’t mean counting on other people for you happiness, rather surround yourself with happy people and it’s bound to rub off on you. Once you start getting happy, it’s like a snowball heading down a mountain, your Happiness will grow and grow and pick up speed as it goes.

b. Find it by laughing deep and often.
Make a concerted effort to go to funny movies, see comedy shows and hang out with your funny friends. The more of those laughs from the bottom of your soul that make their way out through every cell of your being that you have in life, the happier you’ll be in the long run.

c. Find it by taking stock of all of the good in your life.
You’re breathing and upright, that’s a better state of being than a lot of others are in. Not only that, you’re warm, fed, loved and have people in your corner. The flashy cars, the big McMansions the holidays overseas…they’re all icing on the cake. If you like your icing overly-sweet. But, first things first, be thankful for what you’ve got. Happiness follows thankfulness.

d. Find it by making a list.
Make a list of what you want out of life, physically and emotionally/spiritually. Once you’ve got your list, start ticking things off of it one by one. Getting happy is easier when you’ve got a goal in mind.

e. Find your passion – and chase it.
This is the most important thing in life when it comes to finding Happiness. If you don’t know what it is you love to do, sit down and think about what gets you out of bed in the morning. What drives you to be a better person and brings a smile to your face is what will bring you instant happiness. Whether it’s changing professions, taking a leap of faith or spending more time with your kids – once you find your passion, the scariest thing is actually throwing chance to the wind and chasing your dream. I guarantee you if you’re passionate about life, you’ll find your Happiness.

So there we have it. You and I have been working on this stuff for years, haven’t we? We’re old hat at putting a smile on someone’s dial. I think there’ s merit in the old adage that tells us not to sweat the small stuff – life’s too short. Even if you live to be 103, it goes by fast. When I start to get down in the dumps I think of all of the positives in my life, and I think about John Wooden and his inspirational words. Wooden once said that “things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” He couldn’t have been more right on the money, could he? When life handed him lemons, he made lemonade. I tend to do the same, or when more oomph is need, I chop the lemons up have them with a shot of tequila. There’s no better way to turn something sour into something sweet.

And that’s all it takes to find you, isn’t it? Having the right frame of mind and making a concerted effort to see the good in what we’ve got. So Happiness, I’ll close this letter with a simple “Thank You”. Without you in my life, I don’t know where I would be. But, because you and I are joined at the hip, I walk through this world smiling, thankful for what I’ve got. And dancing, badly, to the music I love.

Happiness, you rock my socks.

Love,

Me