The 2020 COVID-19 Outbreak: Keeping It In Perspective

I have a LOT of feelings about the COVID-19 outbreak and the paranoia and media coverage surrounding it. It’s dredged up a lot of memories of my dad, and of his fight in ICU in December 2013-January 2014.

COVID-19 Coronavirus / CDC

A month after he was admitted, we were suddenly without my dad. He was 62. His cause of death was sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome as brought on by double pneumonia (in both lungs). The pneumonia in turn, we believe, was brought on by an unknown virus, most likely the H1N1 influenza that was going around in the 2013-14 season. He also had an existing cellulitis infection that had worn down his immunity.

The 2013-14 H1N1 was a BAD year for flu. The CDC reports that in that season, there were the highest rates of hospitalizations for those age 50-64 than in 2009 when H1N1 first came to exist. All that to say: If my dad had his flu shot that year, it had a 62 percent effectiveness rate, and maybe he would still be with us today.

My message to those who are reacting to media coverage of COVID-19: Viral infections like these can happen ANYTIME. Getting your flu shot, and pneumonia shot for those over 65, is important EVERY year. Going to your doctor when you are sick is what everyone should do — though sadly, many cannot afford to. But if you can, GO.

And as for this year’s COVID-19 outbreak: Keep it in perspective. Odds are low that a healthy adult without preexisting immune-suppressing conditions will get a serious case of COVID-19.

But washing your hands with soap while singing “Happy Birthday” is always a good idea.

Kristen’s 2018 in review: A year of amazing, grateful change

Looking back on 2018….

I think this may have been the best year of my life thus far. On January 8, during the Alabama-Georgia national championship game halftime, I took a pregnancy test. I was nervous because Alabama was behind, and I had an extra test available…. it was positive. I was pregnant! We went out to buy a set of two tests after Alabama pulled out an amazing win (ushering in the age of Tua!) Those two tests were also positive. It was real.

Photo by Freshh Connection on Unsplash

Vonn Thomas Heptinstall arrived 8 months later, on September 4. The first month for me was a sleep-deprived, swollen-all-over blur, but once I felt better after my c-section and V started sleeping 6-8 hours overnight, we settled into a great routine. I have been exclusively pumping for V for more than 100 days now. Nursing directly hasn’t worked out for us, but the Spectra S1 has been wonderful. I can’t recommend it enough.

In October, I sold my reliable “Point A to Point B” 2010 Nissan Versa hatchback and went car shopping. I needed something bigger and safer for Baby V. Ultimately we found an awesome navy blue VW Passat that blew me away in the test drive. And she was mine, and her name is Greta.

Also in October, we realized that we could think about the possibility of buying a house. Initially we wanted to buy around February 2019, but as things go, we started attending open houses and met our awesome Realtor, Lori Paul, with Keller Williams Realty. We nearly put an offer in on a house in McCalla, Alabama, but decided to keep looking… and we found our home in Alabaster! We closed December 14 and here we are painting and prepping to move in this week. We will celebrate Christmas in our new home.

On the career front, I celebrated 2 years with Hearst Television in October. I couldn’t be more grateful for Hearst now offering FULLY PAID maternity leave. And I am grateful for the support of my Digital Strategy team as I became a mom. I also have a handful of freelance writing and marketing clients that I work with. All found me via Twitter or LinkedIn.

2018: So very GRATEFUL.

Mommy Brain: How pregnancy has changed me

I’m nearly 37 weeks pregnant… we’ll hit that in 2 days, at which point I’ll be full-term with my and Brian’s first child, a boy.

A baby, not mine. Photo by Jernej Graj on Unsplash

I am so fascinated at how my mindset and attitude have changed over the course of this pregnancy. Hormones have hijacked my brain, the “Mommy Brain” that everyone talks about. In Reframing ‘Mommy Brain’ from the NYT:

Most experts believe that pregnant women’s brain changes are an example of neuroplasticity, the process in which the brain changes throughout life by reorganizing connections in response to the stimulation of new experiences, and neurogenesis, the process of growth that allows for new learning. A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience found that even two years after pregnancy, women had gray matter brain changes in regions involved in social cognition or the ability to empathically understand what is going on in the mind of another person, to put yourself in their shoes.

I’ve been able to stay somewhat on an even keel, thanks to my wonderful OB allowing me to stay on my anxiety medication throughout my pregnancy. But a lot of the typical experiences have hit hard.

One example: the nesting instinct, which pairs well with my project manager past. The baby’s nursery is ready, save for some artwork. All that’s left to do is put together the Pack ‘n Play for our master bedroom and the baby swing for our living room.

Other ways I laugh at myself as hormones take over: I’m constantly obsessing over baby products and what’s best for our baby boy. I’ve curated our Amazon registry time and time again. And again. And again.

What’s been most humbling though, is in this last month of pregnancy, I’ve had to come to grips with my limitations as a very pregnant woman. Not only is baby boy estimated to be large, but my amniotic fluid is higher than normal, so I’m carrying an extra-big load. And it’s August. In Alabama. So I can’t get around or do things the way I’m used to. My husband has been so helpful and supportive.

I do feel like I’ve been let into a secret club, though. Being in my mid-30s, many friends already have little ones, and so many of them have shared their birth experiences, product recommendations, and encouraging words.

Now all that’s left to do is get as much rest as possible, keep my feet elevated, and prepare for the arrival of our baby boy, which we’re planning on for September 4.

Here’s to the next phase of life with a new title: Mommy.

The Oregon Trail Generation

This post originally appeared on the Swarm Agency blog on June 16, 2015 during my time as a project manager there.


You may have heard a little buzz across your social networks lately about what’s been dubbed the Oregon Trail generation.

First written about back in April, I shared this post across my social networks, and being a part of this Oregon Trail generation, it resonated with my peers and me.

The Oregon Trail generation is a bit of an anomaly. We hear so much about Generation X, and a lot about Millennials, but for those of us born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we’re sandwiched right in the middle, not feeling like a part of either generation.

Approximately 30-36 years old at present, born around 1979-1984, us Oregon Trailers grew up as technology was sprouting up right alongside us.

A few examples:

  • We may have carried a cell phone in high school, but the bulky Nokia I carried with the changeable faceplate was meant “only for emergencies” because of the high cost for mobile minutes in the late 1990s.
  • We grew up with PCs in the computer lab and at home, but it may have been an IBM PS-1 or the first Gateway PC, with dial-up Internet that took 10 minutes to connect.
  • As teens, we may have dabbled with AOL chat rooms, building a site on Geocities, or writing in our Livejournal, but modern social networks like Facebook and Twitter were still years away from inception.

I realized that along with me, several of Swarm’s key leaders also fall into the Oregon Trail generation: CEO Tom Ellis; Director of Client Services Jeremy Morris; and Director of Digital Strategy Jason Prance, just to name a few.

I believe that simply by being born and raised as a part of this micro-generation puts us Oregon Trailers here at Swarm at distinct advantage. Why? We understand what life was like before today’s digital age, but we were fortunate enough to have tech with us as we grew up in the 1990s. It wasn’t there from birth like it is for today’s kids, nor did we have to undergo the challenge of learning and adapting to digital as adults, like Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

I also feel that being an Oregon Trailer makes one truly enthusiastic about today’s digital marketing possibilities, because not all of today’s ammo in the arsenal was always available, and we’ve seen it evolve over time.

We can joke about outdated SEO tricks, or wax poetic about website projects we did a decade ago, now housed on the Wayback Machine, because we’ve been around just long enough to feel a little bit like digital old-timers.

So why not consult the Oregon Trailers here at Swarm for your next digital project? We’ll make sure to spend a couple minutes remembering the days of old spent in the computer lab playing Where in the World is Carmen San Diego…. and of course, Oregon Trail.

6 Tools That Help You Juggle Tasks

This originally appeared on the Swarm Agency blog on April 21, 2015 during my time as a project manager there.


As a project manager for Swarm, it’s a must that I stay connected, communicative and productive at all times.

As a PM, not only am I helping to wrangle project timelines, agency resources, project budgets and hours spent on our projects, but I’m also entrusted to communicate with our clients throughout the lifecycle of a project, from discovery to deployment.

Aside from typical project management software, I’ve found there are a host of handy productivity tools to keep me on track, on time and on budget. Here are just a few:

  1. Evernote – Swarm has invested in an Evernote Business account. I love being able to search through client meeting notes and internal brainstorms quickly and easily. I can email meeting agendas directly from Evernote and share chats internally to agency stakeholders. It’s a lifesaver!
  2. Powerbot for Gmail – Powerbot allows you to save email threads, including attachments, to Evernote or Dropbox with a click of a button. Based on the contents of the email, Powerbot will even suggest which Evernote notebook it should be filed into. I tried this on a trial basis, and I’m about to pull the trigger on a paid subscription. Powerbot is also available as a bundle for Google Calendar, and is also available for Outlook and Yahoo Mail.
  3. Awesome Screenshot – Awesome Screenshot is a free Google Chrome plug-in. When working through projects with clients, I can take screenshots and quickly add annotations. You can then save the image locally, print it, or save on Google Drive, among other options.
  4. Boomerang for Gmail – I love, love, love this tool. Whenever a fellow Swarmer or client wants me to follow up something on a later date, or if I’d like to remind myself on a certain matter, I can schedule an email thread to pop back up at the top of my inbox. Not only that, but I can also compose and schedule an email to go out at a certain time and date excellent for reminding clients or coworkers about needed assets for a project! If you’re a multitasker who lives and dies by your email inbox, this is a very handy tool.
  5. Sidekick by Hubspot – This is a great and handy way to know when an email has been opened and read. Basically, it’s a stealthy “read receipt.” Sidekick is also building in some features to compete with Boomerang, such as email scheduling.
  6. Todoist – I splurged on a Todoist Premium account and haven’t looked back. I’m able to keep track of my to-dos in multiple projects, attach files and notes to to-dos, create alerts for to-dos via text, email or alert, search tasks and more. Todoist helps me keep on track for what I need to do for a project, whether it’s for work or for life: groceries, finances, volunteer activities and more.

These are just a few of the tools that help me slash through my to-dos and keep my projects on track. I hope you found these helpful!

Cute Overload: 10 Years Later

10 years ago this month, the blog Cute Overload featured my chocolate Lab, Mango, as a puppy. Getting accepted as a submission was a huge achievement for me back then.

Here’s the blog post. And below is the best part, the photo that was chosen.


Mango still loves her naps, but 10 years later, she doesn’t quite fit into a baseball cap. Try a HUGE dog bed instead…


We love you to the moon and back, sweet Mango girl!



For about the past year, I’ve been feeling a certain way. I wasn’t sure what to call it until recently, but I can sum it up now as feeling tribe-less. It’s not a real word, but it’s how I feel.

Growing up, my family moved around every year or two until age 8. Starting in middle school, I was quite social, started dating, and had a few close friends, one of whom I still keep up with today.

In college, I joined a sorority, and the college marching band, and student media, and had many acquaintances through these groups. I met my husband there, too. Post-college, I volunteered extensively with my sorority and never had a shortage of invites to weddings, baby showers and brunches.

But something has happened, especially since around the time I turned 30. First, my dad passed away, and some of my friends didn’t know how to deal with me for a while. Then everyone else started having kids, and I didn’t, so there was less in common. And third, my husband and I moved to the very transient Central Florida. We’ve been renting and have moved locally every year or two since being here, and we don’t really know our neighbors. People aren’t overly friendly here.

And now, I don’t know that I really have any close friends at all. I have my wonderful husband and our dog, a few acquaintances here in Florida who I occasionally might see in person, some folks I volunteer with each Sunday, and a few friends scattered throughout the nation who I talk to, occasionally, over text and Facebook. That’s it. No BFF, no besties, no Snapchat streaks, no brunch or bunco crew, no Sex and the City-style talks.

So I sit here wondering if this is my fault. Am I just too introverted, too much of a homebody? Am I a bad friend, or boring? Or are others looking inwardly at raising their families, and we’re all just using social media as a crutch to “keep in touch”?

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that I see others curating a vibrant social media life full of friends, family, backyard BBQs, parties and dinners. And I’d like that, to an extent.

So, I am feeling tribe-less. I am married, in my mid 30s, childless. College is in the rear view and my peers are mostly dealing with breast pumps and day cares.  I don’t know the answer to finding a tribe, but I hope that my husband and I can buy a home in a good neighborhood and have a family soon, so that I might cultivate a tribe again.

My Hashimoto’s Journey

When I re-branded and re-launched my blog last year, I wrote a new intro: “I am a work in progress. I’m journeying toward a better career for me, a healthier lifestyle, and financial freedom in order to attain my BIG goals.”

Well, the good news, one of those things — the career — is a nice big green check mark. October will mark one year in my role as social media strategist for Hearst Television, and I couldn’t be happier.

But the two other things — a healthy lifestyle and financial freedom — are works in progress. So that’s what I’ll be sharing moving forward.

One thing I’ve been dealing with since the age of 19 is ongoing thyroid issues. My pediatrician found nodule on my thyroid back then and ordered a biopsy. They were so small that the test came back inconclusive. We’ve been keeping an eye on them ever since, as well as checking my T3 and T4 thyroid levels. I was always borderline low on these levels, and I’ve been on levothyroxine her and there, but never consistently.

Since age 19, my weight has been an up-and-down battle. Around the time I got the thyroid nodules, I dropped 20 lbs, down to 125 lbs — and people were asking me if I might have an eating disorder. I was wearing a size 4/6 and felt very confident. Plus, I was 19 and 20 years old — who is’t gorgeous at that age! (more on this later)

Then, I ballooned up, gradually, to about 175. I stayed that size for several years, but remember being about 185 around the time Brian and I were engaged in 2008. I managed to lose some weight and weighed around 170 at our wedding in 2009. I also had some gastrointestinal issues during this time period.

I continued gaining weight until 2014, when my dad passed away. At that time, I weighed about 205 lbs., wearing a size 14. Then lost about 40 lbs., getting down to a low of 168 and a size 10/12 through Weight Watchers — all in 6 months!

I then lost a job and we moved to Atlanta. I enjoyed the food there, and my husband and I went through a lot of stress that year, so all the weight I lost came back, and then some. While in Atlanta, I received a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and started on Lexapro, which greatly relieved my symptoms and helped me feel same for the first time in a while.

Flash forward to early 2017 and I’m at my highest weight ever. I am a miserable, bloated size 16.  My knees creak when I walk. I am tired all the time. And I am fat.

In March, I switched doctors. And for the first time, she ordered tests to look at my thyroid antibody levels, along with B12 and Vitamin D. A week later, the results: My thyroglobulin antibodies should be no more than 116 …. and they’re at 895.3. Antithyroid peroxidase [anti-TPO] antibodies should be no higher than 34… and they’re at 50.

I finally get a diagnosis for something that runs in my family: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It’s an autoimmine condition in which my body attacks my own thyroid.

Along with that, my Vitamin B12 levels are low, and my Vitamin D levels are borderline. No wonder I’ve been so exhausted.

Healing Hashimoto’s

Hashimoto’s is a complicated autoimmune condition that shouldn’t be treated with medication alone. I’m approaching my diagnosis in a few ways and concocting my own functional medicine approach:

Reading & Research: I’m currently reading Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause by pharmacist Izabella Wentz. Next up on my list is her second book, Hashimoto’s Protocol. After that will be How to Heal Hashimoto’s by Marc Ryan, which is a new release for June.

Traditional medicine: My doctor prescribed me Unithroid medication, as well as Vitamin B12 injections. I also started on Vitamin D supplements. It’s been a little over a month now, and after receiving a B12 injection weekly, I’m definitely seeing an improvement in energy levels and morning brain fog. I go back in July to have my levels re-checked and my Unithroid adjusted.

Herbal medicine: I consulted a former coworker who is a newly certified herbalist to discuss natural/herbal remedies for my condition. She recommended turmeric capsules, which I now take daily, along with ashwagandha root drops, which I bought in a tincture and add to my big Yeti full of ice water every morning. Turmeric has a lot of health benefits, including being anti-inflammatory, while ashwagandha is known to improve thyroid function, help heal adrenals and ease anxiety. I also now eat two Brazil nuts every morning, which contain a high amount of selenium, a trace mineral vital to thyroid function. Lastly, she prescribed me a specific tea blend that I’m going to start drinking daily.

Diet: Admittedly I have done no major changes here yet, other than adding in Brazil nuts — but come June, I will. My herbalist passed along a list of foods that are high in tyrosine, another antioxidant essential to thyroid function. And in June, I’m going gluten-free to see how that improves my symptoms. I’m also researching if I need to cut out other foods, such as dairy.

I hope that these changes can help me finally feel myself again. Wish me luck, y’all.

Circling Back and Failing Up

quotes_xkcd_success-people-think-really_tribal-simplicityIf you had told me back in January that by the end of this year, I would be working back in the local news business, I would have looked at you like you had two heads.

Rewinding back to 2012… it was that year that I ran away, screaming, from my last local newsroom, after working in local news exclusively for 7 years. That year, on my 29th birthday, I was told that I was a square peg, that I was not a fit for that newsroom, and that I had 6 months to find a new job.

I was so heartbroken and shocked at being let go for the first time that I turned away from local newsrooms altogether. I felt as though I had failed. I left the following month to embark on a 4-year journey into digital marketing and project management.

So by January 2016, I had pivoted to a digital agency project manager life that I had set out on in mid-2014. But if I’m being really, really honest with myself, living in that world wasn’t an awesome fit for me.

The long hours and client interactions exacerbated my anxiety, and while being a project manager spoke to my strengths as a communicator and taskmaster, it didn’t speak to my creative strengths, and left me feeling exhausted, stressed out and drained. I also found the start-up atmosphere to feel contrived – as though the agencies were putting on a show for clients.

So, here I am, in the last week of 2016, having circled back to what I really love. And I couldn’t be happier, because I have finally realized that what happened back in 2012 was entirely about that particular newsroom, and that particular leadership team. It’s even been echoed by new coworkers who once worked there, too.

Here all this time I had felt like a failure. I thought I was no good at what I was doing, and ran away. But being told back in 2012 that I wasn’t a fit was the catalyst for all of the experience I’ve gotten since, allowing me to “fail up” into a corporate social media position that would have been a dream job back then.

So, while 2016 hasn’t been the best year, in the end, it did provide me with this unexpected but totally amazing circle back to what I love. I feel at home with the people of my new employer and my home base. It’s a great feeling and one I haven’t had since my time with local media in Alabama, more than 5 years ago.

And if I’m being really, really honest, I don’t think I’d do anything differently.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

When Faith Supplants Fear

faithoverfearI’ve been on a wild goose chase for five years.

It all started when my husband and I first relocated to Orlando from Alabama in August 2011. News and social media were my passions. I took a job managing the website of one of the local news channels. They even paid for my relocation.

Six months later, it all came crashing down.

One afternoon, I was ushered into the news director’s office. There, I was told that I was a square peg, that my contract would not be renewed, and that I had six months to find a new job.

Did I mention that I was told all of this on my birthday?

I had never experienced any sort of career setback before. I was gut-punched. Granted, I was not loving my job at that point, having butted heads with leadership on issues I felt were important for digital, such as having website staffers cover more hours of the day. I was already plotting how best to find something new once my contract was up.

I spent the next six weeks going to work knowing that I was not wanted. On top of that, I had a non-compete, and couldn’t take a job at a direct competitor right away.

Luckily, I stumbled upon an opportunity at a niche magazine publisher, as a digital content director for a group of enthusiast magazines. There, I managed editorial and website projects for a year. But the company was going through the same major issues that all publishers have been facing, and had to shut down some titles and  lay off several people.

And I was one of them.

Here we go again. At least this time, I got a glowing recommendation letter from my manager.

From there, I began floating from one opportunity to the next. I was no longer in charge. I just wanted a job that would pay me, that didn’t hate me or lay me off. And from there, I made the mistake of leaving the news industry, and leaving my passions behind.

Since that layoff in April 2013, I’ve held four different jobs in marketing and digital agencies. Four jobs in 3.5 years.

I didn’t plan it that way. I didn’t want it that way. And deep down, I hated it. I hated working on projects with no meaning, that only existed to sell, sell, sell. I hated the sometimes-contentious client relationships that my anxiety-ridden, overly trusting, too-nice self had to deal with. I hated that I had to work with clients who I sometimes felt morally wrong dealing with. I hated having to lie to clients about who was really doing their work — often interns or contractors.

I was also operating on fear: fear that I would be fired or laid off everywhere I went. And when fear is running your brain, it has a way of manifesting itself. Of those four jobs since April 2013, I was laid off once (budget cuts, again) and fired twice. In the process, I dragged my poor husband to Atlanta and back. He was unemployed for a year during our time there. And since April 2013, I’ve spent nearly six months unemployed myself as fear ruled my heart.

But then, something started to change. Over the last month or so, faith has supplanted fear in my heart. I finally had that aha moment about my passions, my fears, and my dreams. And what I realized is that I belong back in the news industry.

And as luck would have it, the perfect fit of a job came along. I start Monday as Social Media Strategist for Hearst Television.

Here’s how perfect it is: I’ll be reporting to a guy I have known for years. Above him is a guy who was my equal at different news stations back in 2008-10. On my team is a guy who I once interviewed for a job with me, and a gal who I recently figured out is my sorority sister from another school. On top of that, my old news station in Alabama was acquired by Hearst, and I may have the chance to work with them again.

How cool is that?

The moral of the story: Don’t let fear rule your heart. When faith overrules fear, great things can and will happen.