Side Ponytail Stories

Cassandra Neece

Why can’t we just live how we want to live all the time?
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I will never forget the first time I met Cassandra Neece, or Cass, as she is known to most. I had just deplaned from my one way flight to Nashville, and was wrapping my head around the fact that I had just left my home of the last twelve years for an adventure in a new city. My husband and I were driving to Inner Light Yoga for the first time, and I was about to meet all of the current teachers and join them for a training weekend. It reminded me of that first day of school feeling when you don't know anyone, and you hope to God that someone will talk to you.  Upon entering the yoga room for the first time and taking in the amazingness of it all, a bright and shining brunette walked directly up to me, smiled, and opened her arms for a hug. "Hi! I'm Cass!" she said. I hugged her right back and could feel myself begin to relax. I was so grateful for her kindness, and after a long day filled with so many emotions, that hug made me feel like I was right where I was supposed to be. 

Over the past nine months I have had the joy of getting to know Cass, and have experienced first hand how her kindness and friendly nature translate into everything that she does. When you see the smiling faces of her yoga students, hear the laughter of her friends, and witness the happiness that pours out of her boyfriend Brent in her presence, its easy to see how much love she brings to life everyday. She's one of those people who just puts you at ease, gives you an immediate sense of comfort, and also makes you feel cooler just by being around her. She arrived for our photo shoot wearing an adorable neck scarf that made her look effortlessly beautiful and totally put together, and made me immediately want to go out and buy one for myself. So it's no surprise that Cass owns her own business where she creates brand elements for other entrepreneurs, designing and creating in a way that "empowers others to take the leap and go after their dreams, whatever they may be." 

For more information on working with Cass, check out  http://cassandraneece.com

For more information on working with Cass, check out http://cassandraneece.com

And for as much leap taking as she has helped her clients do, she's getting herself ready to take a huge leap of her own. Over breakfast at Marche Artisan Foods in East Nashville, Cass shared with me that she and Brent have been on a journey together of not wanting to do what is "normal" in life. They both have passions they want to pursue, and recently decided that the time was now to go after them. As Cass transitioned into working for herself full-time, Brent began growing his clientele in his photography business (@brentosthefreshmaker), and has quickly found success. He describes himself as "an unshakable optimist whose best days are spent exploring new places and meeting new faces", and he's about to fill many days in the coming year doing just that. 

At the end of this year, Cass and Brent will be spending two months living in Nicaragua, and then coming back to the US to travel the country in a camper, stopping wherever they would like along the way. It's one of those trips that people often daydream about taking, but never actually do. Well these two are doing it, and their why behind it is simply inspiring.

A photography opportunity for Brent at a resort in Nicaragua is what put their plan in motion, and soon Cass found a position at that same resort as the Activities Director. The role offers her a flexible schedule which gives her the possibility to take advantage of something she's been craving lately--the space to create. So much of her time this past year has been devoted to creating designs and strategies to help other businesses grow. And although she finds so much enjoyment out of running her own business, she's hoping to use her time in Nicaragua to "live in the now", to get grounded in nature, and to create space to develop herself personally. 

Cass explained that early in her career she was "scared all the time worrying about where the next dollar would come from" and that she felt like she was living in a society where people were "always looking for the next thing." She wants to choose her own path in life, rather than buy into what she "should" be doing at a certain age, or at a certain point in her relationship. "Why can't we just live how we want to live all the time?" she says. She shared with me that she and Brent are on this journey together, and during an Alaskan cruise they dove deep into their relationship and realized it is better to try something and fail than not try at all. They draw courage from each other, and feel more grounded in who they are now more than ever. 

After they wrap up their Nicaraguan adventure, Cass and Brent will return home to Nashville for just enough time to donate and sell the majority of their belongings to prepare for the second half of their journey together--a cross-country camper trip to explore anywhere and everywhere. Talking to Cass about their thoughts behind the camper adventure was one of the most refreshing and inspiring conversations I have had in a long time. "We have always wanted to travel," she explains. "and by clearing away all of our stuff, we are making space for what we want. By living less expensively, we can create more space for adventure and more space for life." Cass started her clearing away strategies in her own closet, and was surprised at how easy it was to clean out other areas of her life once she got started. "I asked myself, 'how do I want my style to be?' and then created a closet that supported that. I wear what makes me feel good."

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"By clearing away all of our stuff, we are making space for what we want."

Cassandra Neece

So let me add one more quality to the many that Cassandra Neece brings out in others and definitely brings out in me-- SHE INSPIRES. She inspires me to get more out of life by living with less. She inspires me to be courageous and to go for it. She inspires me to spend time with the people I love and enjoy every second. And let's be real--she inspires me to clean out my closet and get myself an adorable little neck scarf.  I'll miss her dearly while she's off exploring, grounding, and straight up living, but I'll be here in Nashville upon her return ready to give her a huge hug and welcome her home-- just like she did for me. 

Jenny Finkel

You’ve just got to pull the pin out of the grenade
— Jenny Finkel
Abby Blair Photo, Side Ponytail, Ponytail, Nashville.

This website wouldn't even be in existence if it weren't for my beautiful friend, Jenny Finkel. 

Most people know her as their favorite Chicago yoga teacher, but she's also a Fit Bit Ambassador, an improv comic, a writer, a poodle mom, a #superbuddy to Dr. P, a lover of deviled eggs, a wedding officiant, a claw machine expert, and one of the smartest women I'm lucky enough to know. 

It was yoga that initially started our friendship. I was wrapping up my yoga teacher training and popping into studios all over Chicago, when I found Jenny's OMboy Flow class and discovered what made Jenny's classes so unique from all the others. Her warm nature and welcoming smile made me feel right at home, and soon I was flowing to "No Diggity" and having a blast along with everyone else in class.

But was wasn't just Jenny's fun spirit that hooked me, it was her wisdom. She isn't just a yoga teacher, she's a yoga educator. She has this special ability to break down poses and explain the anatomy behind it, the science of why poses feel the way they do, or what structurally has to happen in your body to be able to lift yourself into Eka Pada Koundinyasana II. (She can also tell you the story about the Sage behind the pose. She knows everything.) After one of her famous OMboy classes, Jenny invited me to join her for sangria at the bar next door. Because I never turn down an invitation like that, I went along and pretty much everything after that was one hilarious outing after another. It didn't take long before one of the best yoga teachers in Chicago turned into one of my best friends.

Jenny's skills as a yoga teacher translate perfectly to how she treats her friends. Just like she listens to her students, observes their energy levels and needs, and then guides them to make decisions is the exact same way she shows up for the people in her life. I go to her with everything--yoga questions, fitness questions, job advice, life concerns--and she always listens, always gives me insightful and loving guidance, and always makes me smile. She has this amazing ability to deliver one-liners that just stick with you, make you laugh, and make everything seem so much simpler than you originally thought. In the middle of an evening class at Studio III in Chicago, she had all of us in a wide-legged forward fold and reminded all of us that sometimes our yoga practice (much like life) can be a total mess, and to just "breathe into the shit show." And just like that, we all laughed. We all breathed. The room was suddenly lighter. That is the power of Jenny. 

Jenny ultimately became my sounding board for the biggest year of change I've ever experienced. I was soon to be married, and she not only supported me during my wedding planning process, SHE OFFICIATED MY WEDDING. Yep, and she nailed it in a way that only Jenny can. She knows my husband, Shawn, and I better as a couple than anyone, and we knew there was no one else for the job of officially making us husband and wife. (I didn't find out until months later that the whole process of becoming ordained and writing and performing our wedding ceremony completely stressed the poor girl out, but in true friend fashion, she never let any of that on at the time.) And just like she does in her yoga teaching, she stood at the front of our wedding venue in Nashville and made Shawn and I comfortable, she made us laugh, and she gave us the beautiful gift of a loving and lighthearted wedding service. And she did all of this while wearing her signature sparkly cowboy boots. Classic Jenny.

It didn't take long after our wedding for Shawn and I to realize that the city of Nashville was calling us, not just to get married there, but to LIVE there. We both had fabulous lives, jobs, and friends in Chicago, and we were spoiled with world-class restaurants, any store you could possibly want, unbeatable culture, and even a Cubs World Series, but there was something about Nashville that we both just needed. We talked about needing a change of pace, a slower way of life, and we both had career opportunities that we wanted to explore. I started to let myself think about what it would feel like to pursue teaching yoga full time or what a thrill it would be to launch my photography website and get my business off the ground. I wondered what it would be like to live in a new place, have a fresh start, and explore a new city. Well if you know me personally, you know that I am a thinker. And a worrier. I'm not proud of the worrying part, but it's a genetic predisposition, unfortunately. So for months, I worried about the potential change. "What would my family say? How could I move farther away from them? How can I just leave my job? What if no one wants to hire me? What if I can't find a yoga job? How would I ever make a photography website? I don't have any of this figured out. Maybe this is a bad idea..."

Shawn didn't need much convincing. He would have just stayed in Nashville after our wedding if it were completely up to him. I, on the other hand, was filled with self questioning and fear of what would happen if I shook up my life to that amount. With the exception of going to college, I had never really made a big location change like that before. I had been doing the same job for the last eight and a half years and was pretty good at it. Teaching yoga had always been my side gig and I wasn't sure I was cut out for teaching regularly. I felt like I had to have this perfectly planned out before I could make a decision. Like I needed to have all of the pieces in place before I could commit to moving to Nashville. But other than a place to live, I didn't have anything else planned out, and it was paralyzing me.

Enter the wisdom, friendship, and clarity of Jenny Finkel. She and her amazing husband, Dr. P, had had countless discussions with Shawn and me about the potential move. Each time the four of us were together the conversation naturally shifted to our thoughts about moving there, what we were going to do, etc. And on one particular evening, over bourbon mules and Molly's cupcakes, Jenny delivered one of her famous one-liners that made an incredible impact on me. "Abby," she said, "You've just got to pull the pin out of the grenade." And then proceeded to mimic an exploding volcano with her hands. And after all of us laughed, I realized she was SO RIGHT. (She tends to be right a lot). Jenny made me realize that I just had to follow my heart and move to Nashville (the pin), and let my safe and comfortable bubble in Chicago explode (the grenade). Because all that would be left after that would be new, exciting opportunities, and the chance to purse them.

And now here I sit in my Nashville apartment, finishing up my very first blog post on my brand new website, all because an incredibly special friend gave me the courage to tell fear to f*%# off. To pull the pin out of the grenade. To let life explode now and then because once the dust settles, the space that it leaves behind is a really beautiful thing. And to remember that there will always be challenging days, but it will all be okay if we just "breathe into the shit show." Dear Jenny, thank you for being such a bright spot in my life. Thank you for your friendship, your wisdom, and for always making me laugh. You've given me courage I didn't know I had, and I am forever grateful for you. Love you, friend.