• Lifestyle,  writing advice

    Don’t Let Fear Cripple You

    There have been a lot of things I’ve been afraid of in my life. Here are just a few.

    I’ve been afraid to:

    -Go through labor and delivery with my kids (I survived, two c-sections later).

    -Travel alone to an unfamiliar location.

    -Take a cross-country flight even though I know I’m more safe in the air than a car.

    -Pick up the phone and make a call for information I need for an article (I’m introverted, and there are days I just don’t feel like talking to people I don’t know).

    -Confront people who have hurt me, because rarely does it work out the way I hope it would.

    -Share my history of battling depression and anxiety, because it’s a topic that not many people want to discuss.

    -Try running again after a minor injury sidelined me for a few weeks.

    -Hit the “send” button after crafting a query to a potential literary agent.

    -Apply for a job I don’t have 100 percent of the qualifications for.

    -Upload an audio file I created and produced in order to share my love of true crime reporting to the world.

    This is only a small fraction of the things that scare me or have intimidated me in the past. And guess what? I survived every single one of them.

    Yes, if I fail at something it will be embarrassing. But who will really know? Me. I’m my harshest critic. If an agent decides they don’t want to read my entire manuscript, they will simply send me a polite response. If a person doesn’t want to be interviewed with a story, they will say “no” and I’ll move on. If someone doesn’t want to discuss mental illness and the stigma it carries, they don’t have to. I’ve had minor physical injuries and have always been able to get back into shape. If I make a mistake in a podcast recording, I’ll own up to it and learn how not to do it in the future.

    I don’t want to be one of those people who watched other people chase their dreams while I told myself, “I’m not good enough. And if I mess up, people will judge me and ridicule me.”

     It’s taken me being in my early 40s to get past a lot those fears, but sometimes it takes time to gain courage to go after the bigger dreams.

    I hope others around me will agree.

  • True Crime

    True Crime Wednesday: The Story Behind “Death of a Cheerleader”

    There was a time when I ate, slept and breathed movies on the Lifetime Channel. These days, I’m more apt to binge shows on Investigation Discovery Channel or the Oxygen Network (they are really stepping up their true crime game!) I think it was Lifetime where I first watched the made for television movie “Death of a Cheerleader,” (originally titled “A Friend to Die For), which starred Tori Spelling and Kellie Martin from one of my all-time favorite shows, “Life Goes On.”

    When I was scrolling through the available titles on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago, I discovered this gem. Because I’m always happy to procrastinate with a streaming service, I heated up a cup of coffee and plopped down on the couch to stroll down memory lane with “Death of a Cheerleader.” As I watched the opening credits, another name stood out to me—Kathryn Morris. Any “Cold Case” fans out there? Yeah, she was cast in the role of a misunderstood “goth girl” and I wouldn’t have recognized her right away.

    “Death of a Cheerleader” begins with Tori Spelling’s character, Stacy, knocking on the door of a stranger’s house, saying her friend “went all weird on her” and asking for a ride home. You can see a shadowy figure nearby through the trees pacing in front of a car. Once she is dropped at home, she is viciously attacked by the person who had followed her home. The movie then proceeds to flash back to a year earlier.

    The movie tells the story of a young impressionable student named Angela who is desperate to finally become noticed by her classmates, and determined to do whatever it takes to fit in with “the cool crowd.” That cool crowd includes Stacy Lockwood, a peppy and vivacious cheerleader who also derives great joy in making those around her cower in fear, most of all, her female classmates, and this includes driving the once-meek Angela to violence.

    Noticing that the movie was “based on true events,” I pulled out my phone and googled the details as I watched the first part of the movie. The plot for the movie was inspired by the murder of 15-year-old California native Kirsten Costas back in 1984. Her classmate Bernadette Protti was eventually convicted of stabbing Costas to death. The two girls had been classmates at Miramonte High School and according to some, rivals. Protti had endured disappointment after disappointment at school, not making the cheerleading team or the yearbook staff. She felt like people like Costas sailed through life getting everything they wanted based on looks and how much money their families had. She told police she feared Costas was going to start telling people “she was weird,” and that she would become an outcast.

    Kirsten Costas

    Protti served seven years behind bars and was released from prison in in 1992 at the age of 23. She moved away and eventually changed her name.

    Bernadette Protti

    In my opinion, “Death of a Cheerleader” did a great job of showcasing the pressure kids put on themselves to be perfect in how school and how bullying and the disintegration of friendships can drive people to unimaginable violence.

    By the way, if you want to watch an updated version of the film, it looks like Lifetime is remaking the 1994 version of “Death of a Cheerleader.”

  • True Crime

    True Crime Wednesday: Cults and Extreme Belief Docuseries

    Even though I’m not always crazy about the interface for Amazon Prime Video, I’ll admit I’ve found plenty of TV shows and movies to keep me content during this quarantine. Since cults are a subject that never cease to amaze me, I binged a docuseries I found there called “Cults and Extreme Belief” a few months ago, but decided to share my thoughts on it in case anyone is looking for something new to watch.

    Reporter/anchor Elizabeth Vargas hosts the series and conducts interviews with a number of people who spent time in cults and are still processing the emotional and physical scars from doing so. Each episode is about 45 minutes long and the series is rated TV-14. The first episode focuses on NXIVM, led by Keith Raniere and the subject of many news headlines over the past few years. The group was billed as self-help group, but it quickly spiraled into much more than that, even subjecting various female members with a brand bearing the leader’s initials. Other episodes focus on Jehovah’s Witnesses, Children of God, Twelve Tribes, World Peace Unification Sanctuary and FLDS.

    I think the one that affected me the most was the episode on the U.N.O.I, or the United Nation of Islam. In this organization, parents are encouraged to send their young children off to work in various businesses owned by the leader, Royall Jenkins. And when I say send their children off to work, I mean their children are loaded into the back of a tractor trailer and carried across the country from their parents in many cases. Jenkins has made his money opening cafes and restaurants all over the United States, and these children and teens are forced to work in these businesses for free.

    It doesn’t take you long in the episode to realize this is a human trafficking organization, and if the children try to tell their parents what is happening, the parents are forced to choose between their children and the church. They don’t usually make the choice you hope they would, either. The Twelve Tribes are organized in a similar fashion, using their members for free labor, and subjecting them to physical abuse if they complain.

    The last two episodes focus on more of a roundtable discussion amongst the survivors. These episodes are a little unbalanced, because there are a few survivors who more talkative than others so you may not hear from as many people as you’d like. I think this is an interesting and important series, though, because you see how survivors are often pulled into these organizations based on the beliefs of their parents and family members (NXVIM is an exception to this, though), and when they leave, it’s heartbreaking when they endure the shunning that goes along with “betraying” a cult.

  • Creative Writing,  Lifestyle

    Quarantine Life

    It’s been a strange past month with the shelter-at-home orders here in North Carolina thanks to the spread of COVID-19. We are a fortunate household to have one adult who has been able to transition to working from home completely, and another (me) who works as a contract employee for a magazine, and I’ve also been able to keep generating income through my clients. We are blessed, because we know others who have had to temporarily close their family businesses.

    I feel for my kids. They miss their friends, their IRL contact, driving back and forth together to school, and randomly stopping by Dunkin’ Donuts for iced coffees and donut holes. We miss simply being able to hop in the car and eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant, but we are trying to order food from local restaurants at least once a week to keep supporting them where we can. We are fortunate to have Wi-Fi and four separate computers so we can all work and attend classes and Zoom meetings without having to share devices.

    We are also sad to have missed a fun spring break trip we had planned to New Orleans, where my son was excited to see the Pelicans in person and witness Zion Williamson’s ball-handling skills. I simply wanted to hear some jazz music and eat a beignet at Café Du Monde.

    During this time, we are also lucky the weather has been so beautiful, and that we have access to a greenway right in our neighborhood. While we’ve all gained a few pounds from all the snacking we’ve been doing, we are also exercising outdoors more than we ever did before. We’ve also had more family move nights during this time, and today we even got out and explored a nearby botanical garden together.

    I’ve also tried to stay busy by finally reading books that have been on my shelves for some time, taking online webinars and workshops on the craft of marketing and writing (I took a great one from Jenna Kutcher on list building) and continuing to work on my passion project, a true crime podcast I plan to launch in early May.

    I don’t want to take this extra time for granted, because there were a few times in the past few months where I wished for time to slow down because I was rapidly approaching burnout. I do hope we can all safely return to a sense of normalcy sooner than later, but I’ll trust the experts to let us know when that time is.

  • podcasts,  True Crime

    True Crime Wednesday: Why I Liked the “Joe Exotic: Tiger King” podcast over the Netflix Docuseries

    As a fan of many of Wondery’s podcasts, I instantly became hooked when “Over My Dead Body: Joe Exotic” was first released last fall. I appreciate good investigative reporting, and host Robert Moor actually went out to Oklahoma to meet Joe Maldonaldo-Passage (the name he now goes by) and recorded what transpired during much of his time there. I had never heard of Joe Exotic before the podcast, but Moor’s production, voice and storytelling left me eagerly awaiting each new episode (the series was only five or six episodes originally).

    Sure, there were parts that made me cringe, and I absolutely do not agree with breeding and selling large cats. I felt both empathy for Joe (after hearing of what he dealt with as a young adult) and anger towards the narcissism that eventually led to his downfall. It’s also clear Joe mistreated both the animals at his park and his employees, so I’m not one in the “Free Joe Exotic” camp. The podcast series slowly delved into Joe’s feud with Carole Baskin, and her voice is also heard on the podcast, and that is the narrative that the podcast stayed with until the finale.

    So when I heard Netflix was planning to release a docuseries called “The Tiger King,” I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back and relive that world again. It was hard enough the first time around. I watched part of the first episode and turned it off after about 20 minutes. It came across as exploitive and salacious, and I wasn’t sure I liked the direction it was going in. But then as the internet exploded with discussions about the series, I gave in and binged it in a few days. At the time I’m writing this, 64 million households and counting have watched “The Tiger King.” I guess I felt like I needed to go back and give it another try, especially since I already knew the backstory from the podcast and wanted to compare the two. It’s interesting that there were all these journalists working on this story simultaneously over the course of several years, before Joe was even arrested and convicted of murder for hire.

    I grew frustrated with the direction of the Netflix series. I understand it’s the work of the filmmakers (and bless them for spending so many hours upon hours interviewing the key players involved) but the second episode, “Cult of Personality,” left me scratching my head. I never knew there were so many people running exotic animal operations in the United States, and they all seem to be more than a little off their rockers. I had also heard about the mystery of Carole Baskin’s missing husband from the podcast, but the documentary seems to have unleashed a whole new level of interest in that case. (I will admit the disappearance is more than a little fishy, but there is no concrete proof of her involvement at this point). I grew frustrated that the documentary also made it look like Joe Exotic was a real country-music star, and I knew from the podcast that Joe can’t even sing, much less write music. I believe the real songwriters are credited at the end of the series but who was actually looking for that in the credits?

    And as for the “bonus” episode of “The Tiger King,” where E’s Joel McHale interviews several people from the series, skip it if you haven’t already. He comes across as condescending and treats the whole episode as a big joke. It was completely pointless.

    I may feel more connected to the podcast because I’m also a journalist and feel it depicted the story more honestly without trying to be sensational. I was really surprised at the end of the docuseries when statistics about the number of large cats that exist in the United States appeared. That information almost seemed to come out of nowhere. In my opinion (and apparently Carole Baskin’s), Netflix chose to focus more on the crazy antics of the characters rather than the opportunity to educate the public about the importance of preventing the breeding and selling of large cats.

    If you want to check out the podcast, it’s available on all podcast platforms. Wondery has released bonus episodes that feature uncut interviews Robert Moor conducted, but after listening to two of them, I don’t feel like they add anything to the story. There are awkward pauses all throughout and it becomes clear why things are edited the way they are in the final product. Texas Monthly also produced a great piece on the story.

    I’d also recommend checking out the podcast “Life is Short with Justin Long,” where Long interviews Moor about his experience researching and producing the “Joe Exotic” podcast.

  • Book Review

    Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

    Synopsis:

    From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.

    Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis – that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over 40 years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

    The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

    But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, his aunt, his uncle, his sister, and most of all his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

    A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

    Review:

    I really, really wanted to like this book. I got excited just reading the nine-page introduction and remember excitedly telling my husband about it on the day I started the memoir. Coming from humble beginnings myself, I felt like I would be able to relate to Vance’s story, although I grew up in rural Texas and North Carolina and not Kentucky/Ohio.

    But really, the comparison ended there. Vance’s memoir begins with the story of his origins (his grandparents) and follows a pretty linear timeline. It was hard to feel empathy for his mother, who dragged her two kids in and out of so many relationships that I almost lost count of the men in Vance’s life. I believe she was married at least five times, and eventually became addicted to heroin. The figure he looked up to the most was his paternal grandmother, or “Mamaw,” as he called her, but I have to say I took issue with her language and demeanor. I understand she grew up in the backwoods of Kentucky and was married and pregnant before she was even the legal age to drive a car, but her “colorful” language and roughneck behavior did not strike me as someone who should be a role model for any young child. I can’t even repeat some of the things she said to family members and her grandchildren because I found them so offensive. This made it hard for me to read chapter after chapter of how wonderful “Mamaw” was and how his years living with her changed his life. (His grandparents never divorced but stopped living in the same residence by the time Vance was in his teens). I found myself wondering over and over what the point of the memoir is. The book has the subtitle “A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” and while Vance did discuss the mentality of many of the working class that reside in the area he grew up in (there’s a sense of entitlement without the work ethic to back it up), I felt like he circled around the topic without giving any substance.

    I do have a great deal of respect that Vance realized after being accepted to Ohio State University that he didn’t have the maturity he needed to successfully complete college, thus leading to an enlistment in the Marine Corps first instead. He also completed college pretty quickly once he began his courses, then heading off to Yale Law School. But I found my mind drifting during the chapters where he attended Yale. He didn’t seem to know why he wanted to attend law school, other than the fact that all the successful people he knew from his hometown were either doctors or lawyers, and he didn’t like blood. I don’t even think he is still a practicing lawyer, as the bio on the book jacket says he is now an investor in a venture capital firm. I read some other reviews before writing this one, trying to pinpoint why I found myself skimming the last chapter of the memoir by the end. I think one reviewer nailed it by saying she felt Vance’s prose lacked the color and authenticity one would expect from someone who grew up in the Rust Belt, with childhood memories of Appalachia. Vance went through the motion of detailing his story, but he never plumbs into the depths of how running from his mother on a country road, in fear for his life, or having to pay for her extended stay at a motel after she relapsed into drugs again, really made him feel. What the reader gets is a memoir that reads more like a term paper. And while that may be okay for some, it leaves the reader wanting.

  • podcasts,  True Crime

    Podcast Unravels the Mystery Behind the Kristin Smart Disappearance

    I think I first heard about the Kristin Smart case back in the late 90s on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries.” She was a 19-year-old student at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. The Friday before Memorial Day weekend, Kristin was ready to unwind and blow off some steam. She attended a party thrown by a local fraternity, and after walking back towards her dorm with a few other students, was never seen again.  

    24 years later, we still don’t know what happened to Kristin. But according to recent news reports, the mother of Kristin Smart has been told to prepare for new and breaking details about the case. When I learned that a new investigative podcast does a deep dive into Kristin’s life and the theories surrounding her disappearance, I knew I had to check it out. I was pretty surprised with what the podcast uncovered. And I’m only on Episode 3.

    I’m not going to get into too many details, because I recommend you check out the podcast “Your Own Backyard; The Disappearance of Kristin Smart” yourself, especially if you liked Payne Lindsey’s coverage of Tara Grinstead’s disappearance in the “Up and Vanished” podcast.  

    But here are a few things I didn’t know going into the podcast:

    Investigators have always had a suspect in the case, a young man who was supposedly the last person seen with her on that walk home. That young man had a black eye in the days following her disappearance, and he gave three different explanations as to how he got that bruise. When cadaver dogs were taken through the Cal Poly dorms days later (because it took campus police almost a week to report her missing), they hit on the corner of the mattress in the dorm room belonging to this young man who was the last person seen with her. Unfortunately, by that time, the rooms had already been thoroughly cleaned by college janitorial staff because students had gone home for the summer.

    There is so much more circumstantial evidence that points to this suspect, and the host of “Your Own Backyard,” California native Chris Lambert, covers it all. He was in elementary school when Kristin first went missing and has grown up driving past the billboards featuring the young girl’s smiling face. He interviews her family, her closest friends, and scores of young women who knew the suspect in the case and are not surprised that he may have taken advantage of a young intoxicated college girl leaving a party. In fact, most of the women won’t use their own names in the podcast because they fear retribution by the suspect.

    I have a feeling Lambert’s reporting may have put the final pieces of this puzzle together. I plan on finishing the rest of the episodes this week to find out more.

  • Lifestyle

    Five Days of Meals on the MyWW Purple Plan

    My weight has fluctuated ever since I graduated from college. Once I got into the routine of lunching with co-workers, eating take-out after a long day of work, and later, trying to make healthy meals for my family as an exhausted young mom, it’s not hard to see why it’s been a struggle. At the beginning of 2018 I was fed up once again. I had let myself get to a point where I was living in leggings and oversized sweaters, and reaching for every carb imaginable to combat stress and a busy schedule. Pizza and sweet treats were my biggest downfalls. I decided to join WW after I heard about their Freestyle program, and while it was hard in the beginning, once the weight started falling off me, I stayed the course logging in my foods on the app on my phone and trying not to go over my daily budget of 23 SmartPoints. I liked that I could eat foods like lean chicken, turkey, eggs, beans and non-starchy fruits and vegetables for 0 points toward my budget. Within four months, after careful tracking and a regimented workout schedule of five days a week, I reached my goal weight.

    But last year, after maintaining for about a year, I started to backslide. I would go one day without tracking what I ate, thinking it was fine if I cheated a little, and before I knew it, one day would turn into four days out of the week where I couldn’t remember what I had eaten. I told myself I would just have to pull it together and be more disciplined. When WW switched up their program last year, creating three individualized programs to meet different people’s preferences, I stuck with Blue because it was the same as the Freestyle I had been using. But over the holidays, as I cheated with all the alcohol, baked goods and cheesy foods, I realized something needed to change. I couldn’t button my pants any longer. My weight was only five or six pounds away from my heaviest weight again. And I felt miserable.

    I looked over the MyWW plans again and the Purple plan caught my eye. At first, I was nervous when I saw that I would only be allocated 16 points a day to eat. I was having trouble sticking with Blue’s 23 points at that time! Then I noticed the list of zero-point foods on the Purple plan was much larger than that of the Blue plan. I wondered if I could be savvy enough to mix the zero-point foods on the Purple plan with foods I liked in order to feel more full. On the Blue plan (which was basically low-carb) I often went to bed with my stomach rumbling, and no amount of stuffing fruits and vegetables in my face could help it. Then I would sneak into the pantry and sabotage myself with handfuls of chips or cookies to satisfy my hunger.

    The Purple plan offers zero-points for things like brown rice, potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, plain popcorn. These were all foods that I had missed on the Purple plan, and foods I knew would probably help keep me more full if I mixed them with the right things. I noted you still have to measure the amounts and use these foods sparingly, which I was willing to do. So on New Year’s Eve I officially switched to the Purple plan on my app.

    I’m happy to report that as of tracking one week on this new plan, I’ve lost three pounds and I already feel much better. I will try and stick to this plan for a few more weeks and make sure it continues to work before I make a final decision, but as of now, I’m a pretty happy camper. I’m listing five days of what I ate below to give you an example of what foods are working for me.

    Jan. 2, 2020

    Breakfast: 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar, an omelette with two eggs and one slice of reduced fat provolone cheese, 1/2 cup roasted sweet potatoes

    Total breakfast points: 5

    Lunch: Two Falafel “meatballs,” 3 Tbsp. black olives, one mini Persian cucumber, 2 cups lettuce, topped with a dollop of Fage nonfat greek yogurt

    Total lunch points: 3

    Dinner: 1 cup of slow-cooker minestrone soup, two slices of Food for Life Sprouted Grain Bread, 3 oz. deli turkey, one slice of reduced-fat provolone

    Total dinner points: 8

    Snacks: 1 small mandarin orange

    Total snack points: 0

    Total daily points: 16

    Jan. 3, 2020

    Breakfast: Two Falafel “meatballs,” 3 Tbsp. black olives, one mini Persian cucumber, 2 cups lettuce, 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar

    Total breakfast points: 5

    Lunch: 1 cup of slow-cooker minestrone soup, one slice of Food for Life Sprouted Grain Bread, 3 oz. deli turkey, one slice of reduced-fat provolone

    Total lunch points: 6

    Dinner: Flank steak fajitas (no tortilla), 1/2 cups roasted sweet potatoes, 1/4 of an avocado

    Total dinner points: 6

    Snacks: 1 apple, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt with frozen unsweetened cherries, two Honeymaid chocolate graham crackers

    Total snack points: 1

    Total daily points: 17 (I dipped into my 21 weekly extra points WW gives me)

    Jan. 4, 2020

    Breakfast: 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar, 1/2 cups fresh raspberries, spinach and cheddar frittata

    Total breakfast points: 5

    Lunch: 1 cup slow cooker minestrone, mixed salad greens with 1 tbsp of Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing, 1 chocolate pumpkin muffin

    Total lunch points: 5

    Dinner: 1 link of Aidell’s Italian-Style chicken sausage, 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup whole wheat pasta, 1/8 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

    Total dinner points: 7

    Snacks: 1 apple, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt with frozen unsweetened cherries, two Honeymaid chocolate graham crackers

    Total snack points: 1

    Total daily points: 16

    Jan. 5, 2020

    Breakfast: 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt, 2 Honeymaid chocolate graham crackers, 3/4 cups frozen unsweetened cherries

    Total breakfast points: 4

    Lunch: 1 cup slow cooker minestrone, 1 Babybel mini cheese wedge, 1 mandarin orange

    Total lunch points: 4

    Dinner: 2 homemade italian meatballs with marinara sauce, 1 cup whole-wheat pasta

    Total dinner points: 6

    Snacks: 1 apple, 3 pieces of Oh Snap Pickling Co. carrot sticks, 1 slice of Food for Life Whole Grain Sprouted Bread

    Total snack points: 2

    Total daily points: 16 points

    Jan. 6, 2020

    Breakfast: Omelette with two eggs, cooked spinach, olive oil and reduced fat provolone cheese, 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar

    Total breakfast points: 6

    Lunch: 1 Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Burger with pickle chips and two slices of lettuce, one chocolate pumpkin muffin

    Total lunch points: 6

    Dinner: Slow cooker Southwest Chicken, 1/2 cup brown rice, 10 Blue Diamond lightly-salted almonds, two Hot Cocoa Hershey’s Kisses

    Total dinner points: 5

    Snacks: 2 mandarin oranges, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt with unsweetened frozen cherries

    Total snack points: 0

    Total points: 17

    As you can see, I like to make large batches of things like slow cooker meals, salads and soups and eat them repeatedly for easy meal planning. I also gravitate towards the same snacks. Having eggs in the morning usually keeps me pretty full right off the bat. I also had a lot of FitPoints I accumulated during these days that I didn’t really dip into. During this time period, I exercised all five days with elliptical training, walking and jogging.

    I hope to continue to follow this plan. So far, it is working well for me and I’m loving being able to rotate in the whole grain pastas, rice and even oatmeal, which I haven’t tried to eat again yet. I’m also not drinking any alcohol during this initial period which helps keeps extra calories at bay.

    Let me know if you have any questions!

    -Renee

  • Creative Writing,  podcasts,  True Crime,  writing inspiration

    My Top Five True Crime Posts

    Round-ups are some of my favorite posts to read, and hopefully this one will be no exception. In this post, I’ve gathered up my top five posts all about true crime–whether it’s discussing theories behind the addiction to missing people or specific cases that have stuck with me over the years.

    Situational awareness. A glimpse into the dark side of humanity. The adrenaline rush. In this post, I take a deep dive into Three Reasons Female Writers are Addicted to True Crime.

    The Case of Mike Williams. This story out of Florida intrigued me from the moment I learned about it, from the shifty wife to the “best friend” who sold him a hefty life insurance policy before he went missing, to the theory that Williams fell into a lake during a fishing trip and was eaten by alligators. Nope and nope. The update post shed light on recent developments.

    Why I find the Parcast podcast Unsolved Murders is so intriguing.

    As a mother, this case haunts me. Hopefully the loved ones of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman can find closure soon.

    Who was in the Polaroid? This case fascinated me so much that I wrote an award-winning suspense short story based on the events.

  • Creative Writing,  freelance writing,  writing advice,  writing inspiration

    My 2019 EOY Writing Wrap-Up

    It’s Dec. 31, and a lot has happened with my writing this year. Because I’m such a fanatic about listening to EOY wrap-ups from other entrepreneurs I follow, I thought it might be a good time to go over some of the accomplishments and setbacks I’ve experienced this year. Let’s get right to it.

    2019 started with a bit of a quandary. To be honest, I was working in a job that made me question my skills and talents on a regular basis. I think a lot of it was that it was a structure (the company was a nonprofit organization) that didn’t have a lot of built-in support for my position, in addition to converging project management timelines, which have never been a strong skill set for me. By spring of this year, I was feeling unaccomplished, unappreciated and my self-esteem was so low that I was having a hard time writing creatively, despite the fact that I had a lot of projects in the pipeline.

    In May I was approached by a local magazine I’ve freelanced for frequently in the last 10 years, and when I had the opportunity to interview for the editor position, I jumped. Even though the job would bring its own set of challenges, I knew most of the people that worked there already and knew the tone and style of the publication like the back of my hand.

    However, because I’m always so concerned about not burning bridges in the publishing industry, I gave a long notice to my job and had the first magazine deadline overlap with my last two weeks at the job I was leaving. My editorial job is remote, but juggling e-mails, phone calls and planning meetings while trying to introduce myself to the writers and photographers and work on transitional documents proved to be quite challenging. The first deadline of the magazine also coincided with our annual family vacation (which we had booked with some family friends at a beach house in Florida) so I felt like I was editing stories and proofreading pages almost the entire time I was on vacation. That was a tough time and I still feel like I never got a proper vacation, although I did get an extra paycheck out of the overlapping job duties I did for two weeks. I’m not sure it was worth it, though.

    Here is a breakdown of everything related to writing/publishing I worked on this year:

    Since August, I’ve produced six issues of the magazine I work for, Lake Norman CURRENTS, and one newcomer’s guide that the company also produces for that magazine. I’ve personally written two advertorial articles, six Editor’s Letters and 23 feature articles ranging from 250-650 words and 11 business profiles, in addition to various calendar of events sections and product spreads.

    For WOW! Women on Writing, I wrote 26 blog posts, interviewed 13 writing contest winners and finalists, helped judge two flash fiction contests, and wrote one e-zine article in October about my experience attending MurderCon.

    For Writer’s Digest, I helped judge one of their self-published book contests, which required me to read and review 22 books.

    Writing Contests: I didn’t have any luck with writing contests, but I entered six short story contests and two creative non-fiction contests. I also entered two pieces in literary journals, where I received one rejection and am still waiting to hear back from the other. I also published my young adult novel, Between, on Wattpad back in August, and it has received almost 500 reads at this point.

    I’m also in the process of developing a true-crime podcast, and have purchased some of the equipment already and have my first episode’s script written. I hope to get that off the ground by the end of January, so stay tuned!

    I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged, because I had wanted to accomplish more with my creative writing last year, but considering I’ve made slightly more money in my actual career this year, and produced a heck of a lot of valuable and helpful content and human-interest stories, I think I can settle back and give myself a much-needed pat on the back. I’ll do a future post soon on some of my goals for this coming year.

    How did you do with your writing projects this year? I’d love to hear some of your accomplishments, goals, and “never doing that again!” stories!