Gratitude Attitude: Getting Uncomfortable to Find Happiness

Copy of Just try New things. Don't be afraid. Step outside your comfort zone and soar.

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE and intentionally getting uncomfortable is the secret to really kicking that spice up a notch!

This approach to life is what’s kept me, in many ways, out of the clutches of prolonged periods of depression. It’s been a solid practice for maintaining my mental wellness. The odd thing is that I hadn’t connected it to my happiness before. If I’m not learning something new, then I’m usually pretty miserable.

How I do it

I’m a lifelong learner – if I could get paid to take classes for a living, I’d probably be happy (assuming it’s not math…). Every year, as part of my goal setting, which involves sitting down with a pen and post-it note and jotting a few things down, I try to list one new thing I want to do or learn for the year, sometimes more.

Several years ago, I decided to do my first solo travel. I went to Chicago and fell in love with the city and solo travel! I’ve since visited solo to a few other countries including Spain and Portugal.

I have taken a 10-week technical boxing class, which was intimidating – it was in a real boxing gym and the guy, well, he looked like he coached many champs in his earlier days. I absolutely LOVED every, single, gruelling, sweat-drenched, bit of the workout! To this day, I will swear that boxing is the best fitness workout you can get!

I have also taken classes in kickboxing, taekwondo, Spanish, salsa and Cha-cha lessons (omg, sooooo embarrassing!) and ice skating – I still can’t figure out how to stop without crash landing, but I haven’t broken any bones or hurt anyone, so I’m ok with that.

In all of these activities I’m usually mediocre at best, or sometimes the classes were not that great, but I always stick with it through the end. I’m still happier for taking the time to do something for myself, that is, to intentionally get uncomfortable, learn something new, meet new people and just have a good time.


5 other Awesome Benefits of Getting Uncomfortable:

  1. You’re in control. You decided what new thing you want to try and just go for it!
  2. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when you take that first step (ok, you’ll probably also feel sick to your stomach, but that should pass…eventually)
  3. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment having done it.
  4. Your more risk-averse friends will totally admire you (yes, I am a Badass, cha-cha dancing superstar, that’s right!)
  5. It has the power to be transformative. You will learn something about yourself from all that discomfort, like, Ummm, that you are in fact a badass.

This year, to step outside my comfort zone, I’ve committed to taking “self-portraits” and sharing them here @thisgirlwithcamera for all to see. Just writing that made me feel a little queasy. I’m still getting used to it, maybe even enjoying it a little!

(Inspiration for this post is from Get Happy: Lessons in Lasting Happiness by Dr Anthony Gunn)

What interesting ways have you found to  ‘spice up” your life lately? Leave a comment.






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Brunch Spotlight: Wish Restaurant, Toronto

Wish Restaurant

Photos by Cassandra McD.

It’s the weekend! And that means its time for one of my favourite activities. Brunching! Ahh, if brunch was a sport, it would practice it professionally!

One of the restaurants in Toronto that I’ve been to a few times for weekend brunch is Wish Restaurant. Celebrated my birthday here last year as well. I’m a sucker for great design and this place has this French, rustic vibe going on that’s chic and inviting (also it’s a place that serves my two fave meals, French Toast and burger and fries! Never disappoints!)


Wish Restaurant

Be forewarned, the space is on the small side but the patio is great in the summer. If you happen to walk by during a weekend afternoon you will notice that the place is filled with the constant hum of conversation and a constant stream of people. It gets seriously busy really quickly so my advice would be to make reservations and do that early.

I will mention that the last time I was there, we were politely encouraged to leave after a short time as the table was reserved for other patrons. This is not uncommon for hotspots in the city. So, if you’re looking for a place to gab for hours with the girls this may not be the place for you.

Wish Restaurant


  • Always make reservations in advance
  • Try to get there for an earlier brunch time slot as it’s less busy
  • Take a couple pics for the IG, it’s def an Instaworhy spot, don’t you think?

If your a brunch lover too, would love to hear what is your favourite brunch dish?




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Food Photography 101: 5 Beginner tips for shooting in Natural Light

photos by cassandra mcd.

I decided to try to learn food photography by watching YouTube vid and using only natural light. It was my solution to being able to practice photography during the long, cold winter months when I’m hunkered down at home. I also thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get me into the kitchen and trying some different recipes. I don’t enjoy cooking that much so I wanted to make it more enjoyable.

It worked. I joined, then Gastropost, a foodie community, that had weekly food missions that we could participate in for a chance to get our photo featured in the weekend National Post newspaper.  That was pretty fun. I got featured several times and found myself looking for new recipes on a regular basis. Gastropost sadly ended last year but it was fun while it lasted.

Not that long ago,  I was involved in a weekend project where I got to make and shoot a few different “simple recipes” for a friend. I had a full test kitchen going on and I will never do it again! I underestimated the amount of work involved. Also as a natural light shooter, I only had a small window of decent sunlight to get the shots done so I had to work fast. It was still fun and I have some photos and lessons learned I want to share with you, starting with 5 simple tips for planning a food photoshoot in natural light.

5 Natural Light Food Photo tips for Beginners:

  1. Know your limits: Limit what you plan to shoot. Try only a couple dishes in one shoot, especially if you are not a hardcore planner (I’m not) and you may want to experiment with plating and try different setups
  2. Planners Win: Pre-plan your shoot – Pinterest is great for styling ideas
  3. Get it together: Organize your props and put them in a reachable spot. The more prepared you are the less amount of time and precious sunlight you’ll waste. I speak from experience!
  4. No Fillers Please: Never use flash, never! if it starts getting dark, you are better calling it a day.
  5. Leftovers are good motivation: If you are just learning, like myself, one tip is to think about if you can freeze the food or keep leftovers for lunch or dinner. This serves as an excellent determining factor in what I choose to shoot!

I’m sharing my photos of a simple Stuff Mushrooms dish photographed in natural light, using an old beat up Canon Rebel T1 with the 50mm lens that cost about $100.

Hope you enjoy this and get inspired to shoot something for your blog or social media or…cook something yummy!



Stuffed Mushrooms


1 lb fresh mushrooms, medium sized

¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated

¼ cup dry bread crumbs

¼ cup onion, finely chopped

½ tsp dried oregano leaves

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1 garlic clove, minced


  • Brush or wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth. Remove stems from mushrooms. Set caps aside. Finely chop mushroom stems.
  • In a medium bowl, combine chopped stems and all remaining ingredients.
  • Press mixture firmly into mushroom caps, mounding on top.
  • Place on a sheet pan with shallow sides.
  • Bake at 350F for 18 to 23 minutes.
  • Serve warm.

Stuffed Mushrooms

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Shopping habits: Reflections of a somewhat reformed shopaholic

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-18Photo: Cassandra McD.

Let me set the scene and you can tell me if this sounds all too familiar to you.

You get a text message from your BFF. 2 images: (1) A new backpack and (2) two new pairs of shoes – one pair, a sexy open-toed high-heeled sandals with metallic gold heels – LIT!! and the other a red hot pair of flats with an oversized bow, very Valentino-esque.

You: [send  multiple fire emojis]. Wait, r you gonna sneak those into the house so ur mom won’t c them?

Her: [smiling emoji with halo] Of course! Aren’t they cute tho? I just had to have them!!!

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-24Photo: Cassandra McD.

Makes totally sense to you, right? They were indeed cute and def worth having.

Then you get the follow-up text.

Her: Argh. I think I may need rehab!

It’s meant as a joke but underneath it, can there be some element of truth?

My initial reaction at getting a text of pretty shoes would be a jolt of excitement. Then an instant desire to run out and have a “browse” through the shoe aisles of Winners…then maybe take a stroll through the mall, you know, just to see what’s in the stores. You guys know what I’m talking about!

The thing is, I only need look to my right, at the stack of boxes in my bedroom to be reminded of new boots and unopened Nine West shoebox housing a pair of mohair leopard-print wedges lying on the floor.

Or open the closet and look up at the stack of new workout gear! What? It was January and Gap was having a sale and I needed some new colourful tanks! New Year New Fabulously Stylish-Going-to-the-gym-soonish Me!

Realizing that I’m a weapon of massive consumption is a hard pill to swallow. I don’t think I’ve ever gone an entire day without spending money on something whether it’s little things like coffee or snacks to large items of clothing. Thankfully I’m not a huge online shopper so I’ve dodged that bullet. Phew?!

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-34Photo: Cassandra McD.

Maybe they need a “patch’ or a little pink pill to help curb the yearnings felt when you spot the perfect heels or that LBD and for dealing with the withdrawal symptoms when we realize your size is sold out or the credit cards are maxed out.

The first months of the year, in particular January is when we hear all about dieting, working out and quitting smoking – the most popular of New Year’s resolutions. Where are the segments about kicking the shopping habit? Is there a pill for that?

It’s a new year and new, more responsible me…hopefully. So as part of my embracing self-care I’ll be committing to making more effort to shop less on items and focus on experiences, like dinner with my friends, brunch with my aunties and planning a trip to Iceland with my cousin. After all, those experiences are worth way more than any pairs of shoes in my book!

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-54Photo: Cassandra McD.

How have you put a handle on your bad shopping habits this year?

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Book Style Inspo: Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay

well read: 'never look away' inspired style
The Deal: Wife disappears from an amusement park and this sets off a not so fun series of events for hubster who may or may not be implicated in her disappearance….or murder…
I’d work this look to an amusement park, wouldn’t you (especially if you planned to do a runner!)?
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Lifestyle: How I set myself up for fitness success, a skinny bi*ch’s story

working out at home

When I was approaching my 30th birthday, a friend of mine told me that once I hit 30 “it was down hill”. He, yes he, was speaking of weight gain. I didn’t take offence at the time. He was older than I was and appeared to be speaking from experience (hehehe).

I also knew that gaining weight for most people was natural as we age. I had read somewhere that woman will put some pounds on in the mid-section in preparation for menopause but since I was nowhere near those years, that didn’t bother me.

Sticks and Stones

Stronger than Yesterday

The thing is, growing up I was subjected to name-calling and negative comments like, “omg, you’re soooo skinny!”, “what are you a size zero!”, comments about my long legs, skinny arms, or I’d get the “joke” when trying on something in the store “you’re such a skinny bi*ch!”

Oh, if I could do that all over again with the confidence that comes with age, I’d flaunt it like nobody’s business instead of hiding behind baggy jeans and oversized sweats, and wearing a lot of pants suits to parties, yes, I did!

So as I approached 30, I was secretly looking forward to gaining a few pounds if that meant perhaps fuller hips and bigger booty, and maybe even bigger boobs. I led an somewhat active lifestyle and made a conscious decision to keep fit so, really I didn’t think I would have a thing to worry about. Little did I know

Slow and Steady is the name of the weight gain game

Sweat Equity

I didn’t really start putting on a few noticeable pounds until about 5 years later and much to my disappointment the weight “centered” quit literally in my mid-section. I could def pinch more than a few inches and my once nicely fitted button-down shirts now sat snuggly over my love-handles. This was really not what I was looking forward to at all.

In the years that followed I inched my way slowly up past the 140 lbs mark. A first for me and a grounding reality into feeling yet a different way about my body – still not a good way.

I know what you’re probably saying. So what? 140lbs OMG, cry me a freaking river!!  You’re still sooooo skinny! Are you seriously bitching about 140lbs pounds? Really?! Shut the f$@%k up!

That’s cool. I get it. Stop Judging Me!!! Ha! Seriously tho, don’t misunderstand me, this wasn’t cause for alarm for me, nor was I super upset about it. My point is that, I DIDN’T FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF. I hated looking at myself in the mirror. Sitting on my bed and notice the folds in my stomach. Like how did that happen?!

Like I said, I’ve always been active and I’d “let myself go” and as I was entering my 40s no less. I’d never done before. Stopped being active. Stopped caring about staying active and in shape for my overall health (more about this upcoming up).

Initially I told myself my lack of physical activity was was because of my migraines, then I was too busy at work and then it was “I hate going to the gym” (and the many excuses that flow from that). My body (and mind) responded to all of this rather appropriately. I felt like crap, tired, lazy, unmotivated, just not myself.

The Tight Pants Meltdown

Working on my fitness

In December 2016, I found myself sitting, slumped over and close to tears, with four pairs of my newish Banana Republic dress pants (I bought the winter before). They were all, in a  word, TIIIIGHT!Tight in the thighs, tight in the hips, and no way to button- them up. None.

I mean, like seriously, there was no getting around it! I’d spent about $400 on new pants a year before and now they were unwearable!

I needed new pants [cue: look of stunned disbelief] But wait… if my pants can’t fit, what other items in my closet would no longer fit?! Let the meltdown sesh really begin!

The Truth Staring Back at Me in the Mirror 

As I stood up, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and froze. This woman was staring back at me and I didn’t recognize her. She looked old and tired and that once taught stomach, and toned arms were nowhere to be seen. How did I get here? I confess, I nearly cried. I was that unhappy.

Staying active was a commitment I made to myself in my 20s for some very practical reasons. Being a Jamaican woman there was no shortage of reminders in my own family of the fact that I was at a high risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Also:

  • In retirement, I wanted to be a healthy and an active senior, yoga in the morning, tennis with the crew at lunch, weekend walks with the ladies (I’m gonna a silver-haired fox livin’ la vida loca baby!)
  • I’ve always enjoyed being sporty to some extent (lessons in boxing, kick boxing, yoga, tennis and running a 5k. I’ve tried them all) – I’m not particularly competitive tho. which brings me to my next point,
  • I enjoy the social aspects of an active lifestyle. I was never a star athlete but I may have been the one to laugh the loudest of the team, always.

Not bad insight for a twenty-something right?!

But then somehow I lost sight of that. Well, I was a twenty-something in the city! It was bound to happen. I didn’t realize it would years later and last for years to come.

The commitment I made for myself that got me on back on track

Physical and Mental Toughness Game On

I needed a change and with a new year around the corner. I did just that.

I started weekend bootcamps at my local gym. When asked what my fitness goal was I said, to “SHOW UP!”– that was it.

I committed to showing up for every class I could and decided that the rest, in terms of results, would take care of itself!

I didn’t want to over complicated things or set myself up for failure. I merely wanted to show up.

The simple steps I took to achieving this goal:

  1. Goal 1: Show up to the first class (this was brutal and humiliating. I basically had to rest after 15 minutes because I couldn’t keep up. I was out of breath and I felt sick. I had barely got started.
  2. Goal 2: Show up to the 2nd class. Honestly wanted to quit after the first class. Not lying. I hadn’t realized how hard it was and what getting older can do to your body as well as your mindset!
  3. Goal 3: The next goal was to finish out the 6 weeks of the round of classes. Just stick with it and then reassess how I felt.
  4. Goal 4: Nearing the end of the class we were given the chance to sign-up for the next round. I signed up! and it was again, a simple goal. Get through the next 6 weekends of classes. That’s it.
  5. Goal 5: Then I said ok, you got the first for 3 months. Can you do another 3 months? and I would move the benchmark every 3 months.

Before I realized it I’d been showing up for 12 months.!!

My Michelle Obama Arms or so I’m told (I’ll take that compliment!)

I can honestly say I feel stronger, younger, and far healthier than I’ve been in over three years! Bonus – I met a group of people that keep me motivated to keep going in the process.

I did lose some weight of course but I still haven’t been able to find my old six-pack and THAT’S OK (I love my brunches and burgers and fries too much! Check out me out on Instagram: This Girl With Camera and you’ll see what I mean.)

When three friends, on different occasions, said “you’ve got Michelle Obama arms!” well, my one commitment to “just show up” was well worth it. I’m feeling so much better about myself now than I have in a long time.

For me it started with one simple commitment to myself. What kinds of simple ways do you find to stay active?

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Portugal, Self-Care Made Me Do It: My Solo Travel Story

barrio_alto_HR-20 copyLisbon Rooftops   

I was exhausted, both psychically and mentally and looking forward to a much needed staycation. Basically, I planned on firmly planting myself on my sofa with a bag of sweet potatoes chips and binge-watching British dramas on Netflix.

That was the plan until a colleague told me about her recent trip to Lisbon. She mentioned that it was less expensive than other European cities so my Canadian dollars would go further, the weather was incredible, the people were nice and the pastries and wine were delicious.

Self-care made me do it (…or could it have been the promise of sunshine and pastries?). In any event, I managed to get the last seat on a flight to Lisbon using my Aeroplan travel rewards points. Now that’s what I call serendipity!


Table at Spleen Cafe inside Museum of Contemporary Art – MNAC  

As a solo traveller, I try to book my trips well in advance, do a bit of research and pull together an itinerary with top places to see and restaurants to check out.

Not having plans would normally stress me out. However, I was already stressed out and truly exhausted and in desperate need of some self-care. That meant being strategic in my effort to spend as little energy as possible to find ways to make this last minute trip as stress-free as possible.


Here’s what I did:

(1) I spoke with colleagues about their recent trips and asked for and received recommendations that formed the basis for an itinerary.


Hotel Carris Ribeira – Porto   

(2) I contacted my local Flight Centre and worked with them to pre-book some parts of my trip including hotel stays in Lisbon and Porto, a few sightseeing tours and a train ticket to Porto.

Bonus: This also provided a great opportunity to get some travel info from the travel associate who had been to a number of cities in Portugal.

Sintra_HR-4 copyGuided Tour of the Palace in Sintra  – Swan Room

(3) Leveraged the knowledge of hotel and restaurant staff for recommendations on where to shop, things to do and places to eat.


Days 1 – 4 in Lisbon:

My first four days in Lisbon was spent learning about its history, getting to know some of the locals, enjoying the famous pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), and learning to say “thank you” in Portuguese. (I will save the mishaps of this trip for another post. What I will say, is that I felt like I was being tested for sure!)

I learned through my tours that the city is made of seven hills (or so it is said). I believe it, as the muscles in my legs burned as hot as the sun that was beating down on me as I explored the cobbled stoned, narrow streets of Alfama, Chaido, Barrio Alto and Alfama neighbourhoods.

barrio_alto_HR-24 copy

I had nothing but time on my hands. So I stood more still, and for longer periods of time than I ever have, simply taking in the Instagram-worthy panoramic views of the city with its clay-coloured rooftops dotting the horizon from different vantage points.

There were some very familiar-looking monuments too, including the towering Christos Rei statute, inspired by the famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the 25 de Abril Bridge, which bares a striking resemblance to San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge.


Photos: Christos Rei grounds and 25 de Abril Bridge

My sightseeing tours took me to the famous Coach Museum in Belem, a royal palace in Sintra and a tiny beach and fishing village in Cascais. I also stood at the end of the earth, well, maybe it wasn’t the end of the earth but Cabo da Roca, the famous landmark identifying the westernmost extent of continental Europe, had a pretty stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean and nothing else as far as the eye could see.


Cascais_HR-32 copyPhoto: Cascais

Cascais_HR-2 copy

Days 5 – 7 in Porto: On the fifth day, I boarded a train at Lisbon’s architecturally impressive train station to the coastal city of Porto (known for port wine and Dom Luis Bridge) and where I spent the remainder of stay roaming the streets with my camera, popping into shops, sipping espresso, eating more pastries and finishing the novel I had brought with me. It was, in a word, relaxing.

Porto_HR-6 copy

Streets of Porto


Boutique_Porto_PortugalA little boutique shopping for unique souvenirs  

One of my favourite solo travel tips:

If you are anything like me, limited experience as a solo traveller, and one who sucks at reading maps and is slightly directionally challenged, then consider adding tours to your trip. I found it to always be a great way to familiarize myself with a city in the first few days and get to learn about the history, culture and visit key landmarks without needing to read a guidebook.


If you’re not into tour groups then you may want to consider an individualized tour like those offered by With Locals as an option or a Hop-On-Hop Off bus tour.


Two cities in seven days was just the right self-care remedy for me. It was enough time to get a taste of what Portugal has to offer and for me to feel a lot more calm and well rested than before I arrived. There were a lot of places in Lisbon I didn’t get the chance to visit and there are a number of other cities in Portugal I’d love to see. You know what that means? I’ll just have to plan (or not plan) another self-care travel trip to Portugal soon!

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