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It started with an email

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I wouldn’t consider myself a risk-taker.

Sure, I’ve traveled to third-world countries without getting the appropriate shots and moved to Chicago without even visiting the city. (I am an Aries!)

But in general, I tend to live between the lines. I don’t paddle out if the waves are overhead and I wouldn’t walk my dogs in the middle of the night.

And to get me to go out on a date with someone I’ve never met before falls into that category.

Here’s what happened: Back in November 2013, I confessed to a friend that I was divorced. It wasn’t something I liked to broadcast. In fact, only a handful of people knew that my marriage was over.

I didn’t tell anyone for a variety of reasons, one of which was not wanting to get set up.

Which is exactly what happened.

My friend sent me over a link to the Facebook page of a guy he had known for a couple of years.

“Single,” he wrote.

“Who is he?”

“He’s a professor at UH, works with us on the wetland project, he does aquaculture mostly.”

“Nice?” I asked. Because that’s really, really important to me.

“Nice,” my friend responded. “And hunky.”

“I seriously don’t care about hunky.” (True.)

“Right…”

After a few back-and-forths — and then a serendipitous assignment on aquaculture — I decided I’d email this guy my friend was raving about.

My attitude was this: “If he’s nice and he’s active and he’s not an idiot or a misogynist or a downer or crazy or an asshole, I’m open.”

So I emailed him about the story. He wrote back the next morning, his message full of useful information. I appreciated his quick and comprehensive response. We became Facebook friends and, a month later, he emailed me this line about that story I was supposed to write: “I’m happy to help, too, and maybe we can meet up sometime in person to discuss.”

We agreed to meet on Dec. 14, 2013 in the early morning to surf at Queen’s — and to talk about aquaculture.

We surfed. And we did talk. But not just about aquaculture.

We wound up talking for six hours at Rainbow Drive-In. And before he got home, he texted me about surfing the next morning, too.

We saw each other every single day from that point on. And six months to the day we met, we were married.

And all it took was an email to a stranger.

I’ve looked back on my exchange with our mutual friend who set us up and I always laugh when I read the message he sent me, begging me not taking on this guy’s last name if we ever got married. (And this was before I had even sent that first email.) “Cat Fox,” he said, was just too much.

And yet, here we are, a year after we met on that fateful morning at the beach, and I’m officially — and legally and happily — a Fox.

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Celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend at the Moana Surfrider.

It’s still so unbelievable to me that our lives intersected last year, that we were both single at the same time, that we would both instantly like each other so much that in six months we made our relationship legal.

It just seems so surreal.

I barely knew the guy at first. (I won’t lie, I did Google him, but not much showed up.) And I’ve never really been the type to just meet someone like that — at 5 a.m. in Waikīkī, no less.

Yet, that departure from the way I usually operate proved to be the best decision of my life.

I met my husband, my best friend. I’m part of an awesome, supportive family. And my two dogs have another sister. Life couldn’t be better or more complete.

I’m still not going to paddle out in high-advisory surf or move to Syria. (There’s no good reason there.) But maybe, sometimes, every once in awhile, I might shake things up, do something that’s out of my ordinary.

Because you just never know what amazing turn your life might take.

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It’s already December and I’m freaking out

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Cursed Christmas.

How did you get here so fast?

It’s already the second week of December — 15 days to Christmas — and I’m panicking.

I’ve bought exactly one present, mailed out zero cards, and just got a tree on Monday. It’s up, but there’s nothing on it.

I’m actually appalled with myself. By this time last year my entire Christmas list was checked off, gifts were wrapped, cards were long mailed out, and I was sitting in Christmas-themed pajamas, staring at a fully decorated tree with a mug of hot cocoa.

I might have already baked, too.

So what happened?

Good question.

In fact, it was a question I openly discussed with my dental hygienist yesterday. She’s a perfectionist — I can tell — and highly organized. By Thanksgiving she’s done shopping, too, and just coasting to Christmas.

But this year, she said, she hadn’t done a thing.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said through her medical mask, panic shining in her eyes. “I’m so behind!”

A part of me blames the Internet.

Not only have I been spending more time on said technological advancement, but I’m shopping there, too. It’s easy to get caught up in the depth of these shopping sites, browsing at items you didn’t even know existed. I mean, did you know you could buy a modular chicken cook from Williams-Sonoma or glow-in-the-dark Silly Putty from Amazon? I certainly didn’t.

So what happened was this: I wound up buying online a dozen Govino stemless shatterproof wine glasses, a Billabong wetsuit top, and a Fire TV stick — all for me.

The sales were just too good.

I bet the revenue generated from online retailers this holiday season — thanks to an extended Cyber Monday that really lasted two weeks — wasn’t solely for Christmas gifts. I’m sure people, like me, splurged on themselves. I mean, it’s hard to resist a deal — and with free shipping!

But now it’s just a couple of weeks until Christmas and I have nothing to show for it. Not even a batch of decorated sugar cookies or a tree with at least lights on it.

My plan now is to wait for Saturday, when it will be exactly 12 days until Christmas. That seems like a reasonable timeframe to get started.

Anyone else freaking out?

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#GiveBack: Fix the hole in the He‘eia fishpond

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It’s Christmas. Everyone’s strapped for cash. I get it.

But one of the best things you can do with your money is support a charity or project that has an ROI (return on investment) that goes beyond Christmas morning.

Look, I’m budgeting this year for the holidays. It’s the first year that I’m solely, completely working on a freelance budget. (And if you know anything about freelance writing, you’ll know that I’m *thisclose* to eating instant ramen every night.) But I still found a way to give back this year — and I hope you do, too.

B39TevMCUAAUX55The one that really connected with me was this: Paepae o He‘eia, the private nonprofit that cares for the historic He‘eia fishpond on the windward side of O‘ahu, needs to raise $100,000 to fix an 80-foot-wide hole in the fishpond wall.

The significance of this campaign — called “Pani Ka Puka,” or “close the hole” — is that once the hole is filled with rock, the fishpond can finally be used. That means, all the work that’s been done since the nonprofit took over stewardship of the area in 2001 will come to fruition.

The 800-year-old ancient Hawaiian fishpond will finally be useable.

Watch and learn here.

“It empowers the Hawaiian to practice in a modern-day setting, being able to restore something that our kūpuna built 800 years ago and provide opportunities for others to do the same,” says executive director Hi‘ilei Kawelo. “There are less than a dozen useable fishponds left on O‘ahu, and this is an important cultural tradition that we have the opportunity to preserve and pass onto our children.”

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On Wednesday the nonprofit officially launched the campaign with a blessing and rock-passing ceremony (above) at the fishpond. The goal is to raise $100,000 in the next 12 months to pay for materials, labor and other support.

The first time I went to the fishpond was back in 2008, when I had joined the marine conservation staff at The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. We helped cut down invasive mangrove, stacked rocks to build the wall, and removed invasive algae from the water. It was inspiring to see an entire community of people, all of whom felt a certain responsibility to preserving this treasure, come together and work on this project. That feeling never left me, and I’ve since written dozens of stories about the nonprofit, the fishpond and its significance in Hawai‘i.

So here’s a real, tangible chance to help.

I’ve done the physical labor — and would do it again — but now it’s time to give.

So I went to the website and donated.

I’m not saying that everyone should donate to Pani Ka Puka (though that would be nice and I’m sure the nonprofit would love that!) I’m saying find something that speaks to you, that inspires you, that makes you believe in a better world — and support it.

Trust me, it will make your — and someone else’s — holidays that much merrier.

To learn more about Paepae o He‘eia’s Pani Ka Puka campaign, visit here.

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The one thing I’m thankful for this #Thanksgiving

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Being thankful is like appreciating the weather.

When it’s nice out, you don’t notice the sunshine or tradewinds. You just go about your day and not even think about it.

You only notice the weather when it’s bad.

And that’s how I feel about life.

We tend to complain about or dwell on the bad things that are going on. The mounting bills. The hateful boss. The dead-end job. The sore back. The bad relationship you feel you’re stuck in.

It’s when life is good — when the sun is shining down on you — that you don’t seem to stop and appreciate it.

I’ve learned a lot this year about just that: stopping and looking around and saying, “Hey, Life, you’re not so bad after all!”

Sure, I’ve got problems just like everyone else. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in a couple of months on just car repairs. My computer got hit with a virus that could’ve wiped out my hard drive. I can’t seem to get my dogs to stop barking at the beagle who lives up the street. And lately I barely have enough time to fold clothes, let alone meet friends for karaoke or go to Pilates.

But so what. So I had to fix my car. At least I have one. And my dogs bark. Big deal.

What’s really important is this: life, no matter how difficult or trying it can be, is a gift. They are people in this world who are starving, imprisoned, sick or dying. And I’m worried about gaining weight or my barking dogs. It’s pretty ridiculous.

What I’m thankful for, though, really boils down to one thing: the people in my life. I’m grateful that despite everything going on, I have people who make me laugh, who never hesitate to help or just listen, who remind me all the time what’s really important in life.

So to everyone — from my childhood friends to the people I’ve just met, to my sweet husband and my awesome family and my three barking dogs — thank you. You have put my life into a better perspective. Turkeys and gravy for all!

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Hope you all have a great #Thanksgiving! Eat a lot and hug everyone!That’s what the holidays are all about!

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Let’s get this cookbook funded!

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I’m a big fan of cookbooks.

Oh, a big fan.

While I already foster a very disturbing addiction to books — you should see my collection! — I’ve dedicated a portion of the bookshelves (yes, plural) to cookbooks.

New ones, old ones, the kind you buy as fundraisers for school and churches. I think I have every cookbook published by every hongwanji in the state.

10441092_896400808825_7249436248650005850_n copySo when I heard that my social media pal Nicole LaTorre (@ChefLaTorre), private chef and owner of Hawai‘i Sustainable Chef, was raising funds through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to publish her first-ever cookbook, I got excited. Like, really excited.

LaTorre, who’s self-taught and super passionate, will share more than 50 of her original recipes, from farm-to-table dishes to quickie appetizers to meals great for kids to things like a Malasada Creme Brûlée and Truffled Kalua Pork Grilled Cheese.

Ah, yeah.

“Whether you want an easy recipe or a more challenging project, the goal is to get people excited about creating food at home, with family or friends,” says LaTorre, who grew up in South Jersey. “Food brings people together and I hope people not only enjoy making these dishes, but enjoy making memories with the special people in their lives.”

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The book, which should be out in December, will include some of her resourceful DIY projects like making your own up-cycled produce bags and “mason meals.” And yes, there will be vegan, paleo and gluten-free options for her recipes, too.

Plus, LaTorre will include a list of locations on O‘ahu — more than 25 farms, farmers’ markets and other small businesses — where you can source your ingredients.

It’s a lot of information packed into one cookbook!

“Whether using one local ingredient or six local ingredients, each recipe counts,” she says. “Each local ingredient utilized helps support the local economy and the farmers who work hard to make these food sources available to us. I hope to showcase some new possibilities by emphasizing what we can create, by bringing multiple farmers together all on one plate.”

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So right after I kicked in some cash to fund her project, I asked LaTorre a few questions about her cooking, her cookbook, and what she means by Italian-Hawaiian fusion.

CT: What influenced you to write your own cookbook? I imagine people kept bugging you for recipes! (I get that, too, and I’m not even a chef!)

NLT: It’s always been a goal of mine to publish a book and after a handful of friends asked for recipes I thought it would be a great way to share all my best recipes with others. I realized as a private chef, I can only cook for so many people on any given day. By sharing my recipes with others, they can recreate my recipes any time they want!

CT: What do you enjoy about sharing your recipes?

NLT: Sharing recipes is something that my family has done for many generations. My mom has a recipe box with recipes from my grandmother and my Great-Aunt Mary, who cooked with me as a young girl. Although they are no longer with us, their memories live on through the gifts they left behind.

CT: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your cooking?

I grew up in South Jersey, right outside of Atlantic City. I like to describe my style as Italian Hawaiian fusion because many of my dishes are inspired by a combination of my Italian upbringing and my time spent in Hawaii.

CT: What’s your culinary/food background?

NLT: I’m a self-taught chef. In high school I had a cookie and brownie business. I made $50 a day selling chocolate chip cookies and homemade brownies to my peers every day for 2 1/2 years until the art teacher sent me to in-school suspension. Apparently, it was illegal to sell anything in school and keep the profits. Many teachers supported the “Underground Bake Sale,” but all good things must come to an end.

At the time, I saw a need in the market because students were hungry and the lunch periods were either super early or super late in the day. With no other outlet to purchase snacks of any kind, my business became successful pretty quickly. It was my motivation for going to school. I lost all interest in reading Shakespeare and focusing on topics that didn’t interest me, but felt excited to go to school each day because people loved the baked goods. As soon as I got home from school each day, I’d start baking for the next day’s supply.

There was a lot of gratification in knowing people loved my baked goods and continued to purchase from me day in and day out. I felt really proud.

CT: What happened after high school?

NLT: After high school I worked in restaurants, waitressing and bartending my way through college.
I always observed the plating techniques of the chefs and tried to make my dishes look as visually appealing. I had a boss who used to say, “We eat with our eyes first.”

CT: And then you moved here and started your company in August 2012. Love it?

NLT: For the last two years I’ve cooked for an amazing family every week, cooked for corporate events, other special events and private dinners.

CT: Any last words for my readers, many of whom, hopefully, will buy your cookbook?

NLT: At the end of the day, no one can do it alone. We all need someone. Many of these recipes represent the importance of working together and also define just how much Hawai‘i really brings to the table. A synergy and an appreciation for all those that make these recipes possible, from the farmer, to the fisherman, to the cutting board shaper and the compost company. We all play a part in helping to sustain Hawaii. I hope this book helps create more sustainable chefs.

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To help Nicole LaTorre publish her first cookbook, click here.

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