• Lifestyle

    The Not-So-Secret Life of Pets

    Sonic and Ruby

    I don’t like to think about what my life would be like without my pets.

    I’ve had a dog for as long as I can remember, and most of them have been pretty small. I guess as a petite person myself I’m hesitant to get a pet that could potentially be taller than me while standing on hind legs. My husband and I started out with a small chihuahua I brought into the marriage, and while I’m sure Daniel was hesitant about Odie at first (we all know the bad rap chis can get) he eventually grew to love that boy. When Odie passed away after a long life in 2010, we swore up and down we would take a break from having a pet. We were too heartbroken and tried to convince ourselves that we would be able to take more last-minute trips, etc. without the responsibility of finding a dog sitter, etc.

    Two months later, I went to a local dog rescue for an article I was reporting on. I guess you can tell where this story is going . . . the first “person” to greet me was a wire-haired black terrier mix. There was something in his eyes that drew me to him immediately and I felt bad for him sitting in a crate out in the August heat. Within a few days, we filled out an application and had our home and yard inspected by the rescue. Sonic came home with us and our kids (who were 7 and 4 at the time) were thrilled to have another dog in the house.

    That dog has become my faithful companion. We joke that he’s like a sheepdog and herds me from room to room. He will sleep underneath my desk while I’m working, and when he feels like it’s time for me to get up, he will “herd” me to the couch, where he immediately curls up beside me. In the mornings, he herds us to the food bowls. He herds us to the side door when he’s ready to take a walk. We have no idea how old he is now, just that he was pretty young when we got him. It’s hard for me to see him start to walk a little slower and take longer naps, but we are grateful that he came to join our family.

    Six years ago, we started talking about getting a puppy to join the family, and because I had secretly always wanted a dachshund, I convinced my daughter to get one for her birthday. We found an adorable long-haired puppy we named Ruby and brought her home in 2014. As you can imagine, Sonic was a bit grumpy with that new arrival, but they eventually worked things out. Now I have two dogs that lie under my desk and have learned just how persistent dachshunds can be when they want food (which is 24/7 by the way). Their two personalities keep us pretty amused, because they both are completely different. She follows my husband around and will sass at him if she doesn’t get her way, something she never does with me. She howls when my daughter plays the piano. She also can be in a dead sleep and hear the refrigerator drawer that holds the cheese open and be in the kitchen in seconds. We keep saying we’re going to enter her in the Downtown Mooresville’s Weiner Dog Race (held each year in October), but I don’t know that we will ever follow through on that promise.

    Pets are such a fun and memorable part of our lives. I only wished they could be with us longer.

  • Lifestyle

    Tips for Making the Most Out of Your Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

    This article originally appeared in the June issue of LIMITLESS Magazine.

    We’ve all done it—racked up a glorious array of produce at our local farmers market and grocery store and then watched as our avocados rotted on a windowsill or our raspberries or strawberries developed a yucky mold before we could enjoy their fresh sweetness.

    With the month of June designated as “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month,” what better time to get a refresher on the best way to store your colorful goodies, build a more enticing salad and learn how to add more fruits and veggies into your eating plan?

    Store your fresh food properly

    Know the best way to store your food.Root vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots and turnips) are best stored in a cool, dry place. They will last up to a month if stored properly. Store your foods in complete wholeness, otherwise you will break apart the cells and they won’t last as long. Avoid placing fruits or veggies in airtight bags as this will speed up decay. Keep fruits and vegetables with the right “partners.” Some forms of produce give off high levels of ethylene gas, which is a ripening agent. High-ethylene producers include apricots, apples, avocados, cantaloupe, peaches, plums, pears and tomatoes, among others. It’s best to not store these fruits and vegetables with anything that is “ethylene sensitive,” such as unripened bananas, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, green beans, kale, raspberries and watermelon. Greens in particular are very sensitive to ethylene gas.

    Make a heart-healthy salad

    Let’s be honest, sometimes salads can get a bit . . . boring. But they are a good way to add extra fruits and vegetables into our diet, and there are some pretty creative “salad in a jar” tutorials floating around out there. (Just remember to always put the dressing on the bottom of the jar to avoid making the rest of your salad a soggy mess when it’s time to eat). Help your salad pack a punch by starting with a healthy fiber, such as quinoa or brown rice. Next, top with leafy greens such as kale, spinach, romaine or arugula. Layer in other chopped vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. Find a nice, lean protein (think chicken, goat cheese, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, etc.) and then top with a healthy fat. Healthy fats include salad dressings made from olive oil, nuts, or seeds (no more than ¼ cup of nuts or seeds because they are higher in calories and fat).

    Sneak in more fruits and veggies

    According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, only 1 out of 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. With the USDA recommending five to nine servings of these items daily, it can seem a daunting task. Incorporating a few smart swaps can help you meet those daily guidelines. Instead of rice, try using any number of riced vegetables out on the market as a base for stir-fry or as a side dish. You can purchase packages of cauliflower and broccoli already riced, both in the fresh and frozen sections of the store. Similarly, use vegetables noodles in place of pasta, such as ribbons of fresh zucchini or carrots. Instead of mayonnaise for a sandwich, mash up an avocado, add in some salt and lemon juice, and use this spread as a healthy replacement. Fold fresh or frozen berries into oatmeal or yogurt and chop up veggies to add into an omelet or a frittata. You can also use fresh fruits and vegetables in smoothies with plain non-fat Greek yogurt for a protein-packed treat.

    Summertime is a great time of year to try new types of foods, visit local farms to pick berries and get creative with meal planning. Making sure you store your foods correctly will help you make the most out of your finds.

    Sidebar:

    What’s in season right now?

    Here are a just a few of the fruits and vegetables you’ll find available in the summer:

    • Apricots
    • Beets
    • Bell Peppers
    • Blueberries
    • Butter Lettuce
    • Corn
    • Cucumbers
    • Eggplant
    • Honeydew Melons
    • Lima Beans
    • Squash
    • Strawberries
    • Tomatoes
    • Watermelon
    • Zucchini

    Source: Produce for Better Health Foundation

  • Creative Writing,  podcasts,  True Crime

    How I Started a Podcast

    This article appears this month in the June 2020 issue of Lake Norman CURRENTS.

    It was while interviewing Davidson resident Stacey Simms about her Diabetes Connections podcast for CURRENTS several years ago that I first learned about podcasts. For anyone unfamiliar, a podcast is an episodic series of spoken word digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device for easy listening. There are now more than 800,000 active podcasts available worldwide, if that tells you anything about their popularity.

    When a friend started telling me about some true crime podcasts a few years ago, I started wading my way into the podcast waters. I loved studying the different formats, the choices of music and sound effects, and the way all the elements could come together to tell a compelling story.

    How hard would it be to create my own podcast?, I thought to myself more than once. In my spare time, I would jot ideas down in a notebook. What type of equipment would I need? What would the format be? How would I learn all the technical aspects of production? How would I find content? I even attended a specialized writing conference in Raleigh last summer, t “MurderCon,” so I could glean more ideas and network.

    Finding myself with extra time on my hands thanks to COVID-19’s shelter-at-home orders, I gave myself a deadline to finally get a podcast up and running. I honed in on a topic (missing people) and came up with a title, “Missing in the Carolinas.” I bartered services with a graphic artist friend of mine to create the cover art (she needed editing done for her online business).

    I began writing scripts. I bought a microphone and started playing around with GarageBand on my computer. I begged one of my teenagers for help. I bought stock music and created an introduction that could be used at the beginning of each episode. I tried recording the first episode, and quickly learned a read-through of each script is mandatory before hitting the record button. I also may have deleted the audio more than once when I was only trying to erase part of the recording. I researched the best media hosts for the podcast, because you have to buy a membership to one before you can get it to “feed” into places like Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, etc. This was uncharted territory for me.

    It was much harder than I anticipated. But after producing the first few episodes, I realized it would be silly not interview guests if I could find them. After recording one interview via Zoom, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the audio quality and am now looking for other options.

    Although it’s been a slow process, I’m proud of the new skills I’ve taught myself—audio production, recording, interviewing, media hosting, creating an e-mail list, script writing—just to scratch the surface. So far, I’ve invested a small amount of money into this project and am not receiving compensation. It’s a complete passion project, but one that I hope will grow over time and generate more interest. And if it can be used to help solve a missing persons case, well, that would be worth the time invested. Wish me luck.

  • Lifestyle

    The Stained Glass Window

    May is Mental Health Month. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression since my teens, this topic is very near and dear to my heart. I know that I am fortunate to get the care I need in the times that I struggle. Unfortunately, there are many who aren’t always as lucky. Please understand that you are not alone in your journey. You can visit the website nami.org for resources and to learn how you can advocate for yourself and your loved ones with mental illness. I would like to share an essay about an experience I went through in March of this year below. It’s taken me more than two months to be able to reflect upon this, but I knew it was finally time.

    It was raining the day 18-year-old Isaac was laid to rest. We joined the mourners that afternoon, carefully walking around the murky mud puddles that pooled on the concrete of the church parking lot. I could see my reflection in those pools, and the tears threatening to spill over onto my cheeks, on that day as I struggled to keep my umbrella from blowing inside out and out of my hands.

    In a matter of a few days, the world had become a confusing, broken and upside-down place, one that I hadn’t lived in for a very long time. It started with an e-mail from our church pastor, letting us know one of the longtime members of our youth program and church had passed away. There were no other details, except the request for prayers for the family. I read the e-mail as I waited to pick up my 14-year-old son from school. When he got in the car, I told him what I had just read.

    “What do you mean?” he asked me, frowning. “Was he in an accident?”

    “I don’t know,” I told him, with a familiar, sinking feeling weighing on my heart.

    My son pressed on. “Suicide?” he asked, looking out the window. “That doesn’t make sense,” he continued, talking more to himself than me. He mentioned how this boy had just gotten into his dream college. We drove home in silence, contemplating.

    Our worst fears were confirmed. It was indeed the thief of suicide that took this young person from the family and friends that loved him. Worst of all? No one knew why. They had no idea. This young man had suffered for so long but didn’t want to burden those around him. It’s a story we hear time and time again, but it never gets any easier.

    As we learned of the funeral arrangements and read the beautifully-written obituary celebrating this young man’s life, my heart felt like it was broken in a million pieces. I was immediately transported back to the mental health facility I had walked into at the age of 20 years old, when I confessed to my roommate that I no longer wanted to live.

    I knew the pain he must have been feeling. I knew how hard it can be to tell someone what the pain feels like—a pain that seems to come out of nowhere and has no rhyme or reason. It leaves you with an ache, a pillow full of tears night after night, a loss of appetite and the inability to understand who the person is staring back at you from the mirror.

    We walked through the lobby of our church the night of his visitation, looking at the enlarged pictures of a smiling young man wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt, holding a selfie stick as his brilliant smile joined those of his friends, and even a shot of him decked out in scuba gear, giving a thumbs up to the photographer in an underwater shot.

    “My, how he lived,” I thought to myself, then stopped. He had lived, but he hadn’t lived long enough. I wondered if I were able to talk to him at that moment, would he have regrets? Would he be grateful the pain was over, or would he have wished he could have held on just a little longer?

    I think about the holding on part often. It’s what I did for most of my early 20s—white knuckling through the depression, anxiety, insomnia and sleepless nights. There were times it was excruciatingly hard, and I didn’t think I would make it through, but I pushed myself to hold on.

    Hold on, I would say to myself, in between therapy sessions, in between new trials of antidepressant medication. Things will get better. There are people who love you, even if they don’t always know the best way to show it. You have so much to live for, even though it doesn’t seem like it now.

    We drove home from the visitation in silence. I could hear my 16-year-old daughter’s ragged breaths from holding back tears. My son had only one question, “Was that his body in the coffin?” It was almost as if he couldn’t grasp that Isaac was truly gone until he saw that.

    The rain poured outside the following day as the hundreds of people gathered inside the red brick church to celebrate Isaac’s life. We heard stories of his most epic pranks, his love of politics and sports, the way he lit up every room he walked into, and his endless generosity. I thought to myself how the young men in their neatly-pressed suits did not deserve to have their friend taken away by mental illness. How unfair it was that they were carrying their friend to his final resting place, far too soon. I thought of the quote I had come across the day before.

    Love conquers all things except the fact that depression is not a thing, it’s a living force that consumes everything in its path, it takes no prisoners.

    Isaac was a prisoner to his pain, and it took him from the world. I wished he were sitting beside me so I could’ve taken his hand to tell him things can get better; they will get better.

    I wished I could have told him he wasn’t alone, because I’m sure that’s how he felt.

    As the service ended, I looked up at the beautiful stained-glass window at the front of the church sanctuary. I could see the sunlight begin to stream through it. As we walked out of the church, the sun shone down upon us, and we gripped the handles of our umbrellas we no longer needed tightly as we made the long walk to our car. I watched as the humidity formed steam off the stagnant puddles of rain. A bright blue sky unfolded above us. I couldn’t help but feel like Isaac was giving his loved ones a final message as they said their goodbyes.

    I’ll be okay now.

  • writing advice

    Should Writers Be on LinkedIn?

    Pexels.com

    I’ve been on LinkedIn for about 10 years, but I’ll admit I probably haven’t utilized it the way I should. After reading an article recently on how LinkedIn has changed its algorithms and how it can be beneficial for career advancement, I decided to take another look at the platform, which is essentially a social network that focuses on professional networking and career development.

    You may be thinking, “I don’t use LinkedIn, and I don’t see how it could help me in my writing/editing career.” However, you should realize that LinkedIn is an easy way to showcase your experience and skills and help you make connections in the industry that you may not be aware are out there.

    Here are a few examples of ways I’ve been using LinkedIn in the past few months.

    First, I made sure I had my most recent headshot uploaded and my details (what industry I’m in, the area in which I live, my website linked, etc.) Second, I updated my headline with my new job title and fixed the dates on when I left my last job because it looked like I still worked there. Then I began engaging more with my connections by liking or commenting on posts or articles they shared, and posting more content related to my writing and editing platform. When I write a blog post I think my network would like, either here or on my own blog, I share it. I also utilize the new hashtag feature available at LinkedIn to try and get more eyes on it. The new analytics LinkedIn is using shows me how many views each post I create gets.

    As a magazine editor, I’ve discovered even more ways to use LinkedIn to my advantage. When I created a list of contributor’s guidelines for the magazine I work for, I shared the page in my LinkedIn feed. That post had 272 views—far more than any other post I’ve shared. And within a week of sharing, I had legitimate inquiries from new local writers and a few solid pitches from businesses for profile stories.

    Here are a few tips as you navigate your way through the platform:

    Make sure you have the most-up-to-date information on your profile, including a professional-looking headshot against a solid background. My headline was easy to come up with, as I have a specific title at a magazine. But if you are in the freelance space, consider using titles like Podcaster, Freelance Writer, Content Creator, Marketing Strategist, Blogger or Storyteller at (places you blog), Author of (name of your book), etc. Your profile should be as complete as possible. Fill in your list of skills and accomplishments and interests. Think about what you would want a future employer, publisher or collaborator to know about you, and don’t be afraid to show off your copywriting skills.

    And last but not least, don’t just use LinkedIn when you’re looking for a job or writing opportunities. Take time to regularly look through your feed, like or comment posts from your network connections, and share your own blog posts and other work. You never know when you’ll make an impression on a future employer, potential business partner or editor.

    Want even more tips on how you can use LinkedIn to enhance your writing career? Carol Tice wrote a great post on this topic at The Write Life.

  • Book Review

    Book Review: Spellbound by Christopher Pike

    Christopher Pike was one of my treasured authors back in high school. I had a collection of his horror/thriller/suspense-themed paperback novels and I always had one on me. I read them over and over, studying the character development, re-reading to see if I could figure out the red herrings drop along the way. Somewhere, during one of my many moves after high school, I lost the entire collection. I probably couldn’t fit a box of books into my car and donated them, but now that a lot of these are out of print, I’m really regretting that. I found a small stack of them a few years ago at a library book sale and snatched them up. After reading Spellbound again recently, I decided to put my thoughts about it down in a blog post.

    Synopsis:

    No one knew how the girl had died.

    They found Karen Holly in the mountain stream, her skull crushed. There was only one witness to the tragedy, Karen’s boyfriend, Jason Whitfield. He said a grizzly had killed her. But a lot of people didn’t believe him. They thought Jason had murdered her in a fit of rage.

    And now weeks have passed, and Jason has another girlfriend, Cindy Jones. And there are the new kids in

     town, Joni Harper, the quiet English beauty that Cindy’s brother, Alex, cannot get out of his mind. And Bala, the foreign exchange student from Africa, the grandson of a powerful shaman.

    Together they will return to the place where Karen was killed.

    Some will die.

    The others will come face to face with a horror beyond imagining.

    Review:

    I needed a break this week so I plucked this off my YA collection of books on my shelf. I read the back, and as I flipped through the first few pages, the story started to come back to me. (Full disclosure: I know I had to have read this book more than 20 times in my teens!) I remembered who the “monster” was pretty quickly, but couldn’t remember how “they” got that way. The main parts of the book take place in a state park near a waterfall, and I got fatigued after a while reading about how the characters continually kept going back to that spot for meet-ups and dates, especially after it became clear that something wild and murdurous was on the loose up there.

    I loved the relationship between siblings Cindy and Alex, as the novel goes back and forth from their perspectives. However, they both were a little too bold for their own good, and both ended up falling into the turbulent river at two different times, leaving me shaking my head a bit. Jason was also a bit of a caricature–rich, good looking, football player and most of all, a jerk. My favorite character was Bala, the grandson of the shaman, as I felt Pike really nailed his mannerisms and dialogue. Also, I kind of laughed a bit that you NEVER saw Cindy and Alex’s parents at their house. They were always out working at the hardware store they own, but it made me wonder if that was meant to raise suspicion in the reader or if Pike just didn’t really want to deal with character development for them. They are only mentioned in passing as “still being a the store,” or “working at inventory” at the store. As a teen I doubt this even crossed my mind, but reading it as a grown adult, I picked up on it right away.

    Now I’m on to reading another old Pike favorite, Remember Me. It’s narrated by a ghost, which is funny, because I also wrote a book in the same fashion. I also came across this article about Christopher Pike’s novels, but the blogger didn’t have Spellbound on the list.

    *Note: Christopher Pike’s older novels are out of print, and there is one copy of this book for sale on Amazon for $71. Wow. I’m holding on to my copy. Also, I may be revealing a bit of my discerning nature here, but I’ve often wondered if Christopher Pike was a pen name for another author, as there is not a whole lot of information about the man out there and even fewer photos. He could write a lot of books, though, and he kept me entertained in my teens along with Lois Duncan, so I have no issue with it.

  • 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.

  • 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.