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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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A letter to my sister

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Dear Crystal,

You are probably at IKEA in Portland right now — yes, I’m infinitely jealous of you — looking for a futon bed or something equally functional for your studio apartment, and I’m still in disbelief that you’re not fast asleep at our parents’ house while Mom is washing your clothes. (It IS Monday, after all.)

You are in Oregon. And you’re not coming back — at least for a year, as your lease would indicate.

You’re going to miss Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family for the first time in your 28 years. And I can’t just barge into your bedroom, you sitting at your computer wearing the kind of headphones we used to rock in the ’80s — when did they make a comeback? — and show you photos of my dogs.

No, you’re literally 2,603 miles away now, living in a state where you can die with dignity and legally smoke weed. You will be shopping at stores like Fred Meyer and WinCo and wearing turtlenecks and rain jackets. (Speaking of which, you better pick those up this week.)

It’s all too surreal.

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It was only the other day that you were this little baby, wrapped like Jesus in the manger on Christmas Day. I would cradle you in my arms and walk up and down the hallway, wondering what kind of person you would turn into. Would you be reserved like our brother or creative like our sister or, God forbid, loud and obnoxious like me?

Then you got older and soon you were running, not walking, down that hallway — you ran everywhere! — singing and smiling and saying something that made us laugh. Like sunshine streaming into our home.

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Soon enough, you were old enough to go to preschool, then kindergarten. And that’s when I started to see you — and the uniqueness that would always be part of your identity. It was at your school’s open house. Your teacher had everyone in your class draw pictures of what you wanted to be when you grew up. Amid the colorful depictions of firefighters and teachers, there was yours, a well-drawn illustration of a scientist studying insects. You wrote — and it was spelling correctly, I might add — “entomologist.” I think even your teacher was taken aback.

Even as a kid, you did your own thing. You shunned trends and forged your own path, opting to watch anime instead of Disney movies — though you did have a thing for “Cinderella” early on and we must’ve watched it 124 times with you — and wore whatever felt comfortable, down to your toed socks.

It was entirely my fault that you got into video games. I remember your complete fascination as you watched me destroy the bosses in “Super Mario Bros.,” barely escape the guillotines in “Prince of Persia,” and navigate the courses in “Battle Bull” on the original Game Boy. I could tell you were hooked — and there was no chance you would continue playing soccer anymore. (I was right.)

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You survived high school, got a biology degree, and even worked as a plant inspector for the state, checking produce at Costco and playing poker at lunch. Collecting a paycheck and bitching about life — you were officially an adult.

But you had always wanted to move away. You wanted to try living on your own, without any help from us — particularly me, who had suddenly transformed from the cool big sister into an overbearing, lecturing adult to whom you were unfortunately related. I don’t blame you for wanting your distance. I left, too, when I was 23, heading off to graduate school in Chicago. Before then, I had never been east of Las Vegas and, worst yet, never seen snow in my life. Our brother and I landed at O’Hare along with the second-worst blizzard in the city’s history. Yay for me.

And now you’re in Oregon — with that same brother who, hopefully, has better weather karma this time — shopping for household goods and boxes of instant ramen.

I’ll miss you, even though we didn’t see each all that often. And you know our parents won’t know what to do with themselves now that you’re gone.

But it’s good. It’s really good. You need to get away and breathe and live on your own. You need to complain about the cost of electricity and discover the irritation of coin-operated washers and dryers. You need to be able to shop at will at a grocery store and watch whatever you want on YouTube until you fall asleep at your computer surrounded by open bags of Doritos and empty Diet Coke cans. (Wait, we’re not talking about me…)

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It will be hard, I won’t lie. You’ll sit on your futon couch from IKEA, alone, listening to a strange silence you’ve probably never heard before — yes, silence has a sound! — and wish you could just walk into the kitchen and see Mom kneading bread while watching the Golf Channel. I felt that way when I moved into a small, one-bedroom cottage in Kaimukī at 25. That first night, when Mom had left to go home and I was all alone in the house, was the worst. I kept the lights on and climbed into bed, surrounded by boxes I still hadn’t unpacked, and cried. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

Turns out, it was the best decision I had made — and one, despite the thousands of dollars I’ve paid to landlords and property managers, I have never regretted.

So take it from me — the overbearing older sister who has lived through this before — you’ll be fine. You are on a great adventure. You’ll meet new people, eat new foods, see new things. Your entire life will open up — something that couldn’t have happened if you had stayed here — and you’ll grow into the person you want to be.

And who knows. Maybe you’ll love it and stay there forever. Maybe you’ll pack up and move to Paris. Or heck, you might even come home after a year. Whatever happens, just know, we love you, we admire you, we believe in you, we are rooting for you.

Just don’t forget to call every once in a while.

Love no matter what,
Catherine

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