Empowering Women

***DISCLAIMER: If you are a feminist this post may piss you off. You might want to not read it.***

Let me begin by being honest with you. I am not a feminist. I believe that men and women are relatively equal and the only thing I can’t do is become a penis model. I’ve never had a man tell me I can’t or shouldn’t pursue a goal. Furthermore, if a man had ever said those things to me I’d laugh and then ignore. I can’t recall ever being a victim of “The Man.” If you’re a feminist then more power to you! It’s just not a “me” thing. I am, however, a woman who believes there is a need for women to empower other women.

It boggles my mind to see how women can tear each other down. Women often get labeled as “catty” or “crazy.” There is a reason for that. I’ve seen Ms. Catty and Ms. Crazy in action. Goodness. Please. Stop it. Really. Just stop. Must we rip each other to shreds? Is it really necessary to be mean to one another? The answer you are looking for is no.

Show love to the women in your life. Encourage them. Build them up. Compliment them. It is so easy to do and costs nothing but a few seconds of your time. See a women on the street and like her hair style or maybe her shoes? Tell her. Smile at her. Say hello. Be friendly. It’s okay. It doesn’t hurt. I promise.

Some women feel compelled to see themselves in competition with other women. I don’t view life that way and I certainly don’t feel as if I’m competing with other women. I’ve started writing two books, haven’t yet finished either but I know women authors who are published. Do I envy them? Do I secretly hate them? Nope. I see them as inspiration. Actually, I see them as much needed inspiration. No bitterness allowed!

It is my belief that female friendships are powerful. If you have in your tribe a group of women who are confident, possess a positive outlook on life and are supportive then you’ve got it made.

Celebrating Women: Renee – A Weight Loss Journey

March is about celebrating women and the is the first interview of four remarkable women that I’ll share with you this month.

Meet Renee and get a glimpse into her weight loss journey. Here she shares personal details of what she has gone through and her story is inspiring! While gastric bypass surgery isn’t for everyone, Renee has had a great experience with greater results.

Tell us about your background. Has weight always been an issue for you?

Weight has been an issue for me as long as I can remember. I was the chubby kid as a little girl and as I got older I was always the big girl. I think I was one of the lucky ones even though most people made fun of me. I had good friends that loved me for me and didn’t care about my weight.

Did your weight cause you to deal with any limitations? If so, what were they?

Limitations yes of course. I couldn’t keep up with the others when I was young so that left me alone a lot. It limited me in the men that were interested in me so more often than naught I was the third wheel.

At what point did you decide enough is enough? Was there a specific turning point for you?

Let’s see, enough was enough when my health started going bad and fast. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure put on two different medications. My legs were swollen terribly to the point I was put on another medication. I was pre-diabetic could barely walk to the end of the driveway and honestly wasn’t sure how long I would have and for the first time in my life I wanted to live. I had a future to look forward to not just exist.

You chose surgery to help with your weight loss. What led you to this decision? We’re there obstacles to overcome before surgery?

The decision to have surgery was actually an easy one. I had been researching surgery for 5 years or so and when all the health issues started my primary care provider recommended it. When I checked with my insurance it was covered…okay, decision made. But obstacles were not that bad. The worst was the waiting and the insecurity if I could actually do it. I had failed at weight loss so many times I was sure I would do something wrong to mess this up also.

Some people feel weight loss surgery is unnecessary and all one needs to do is eat healthy and exercise to lose weight. What is your response to those who criticize weight loss surgery?

I won’t lie, I was definitely not eating right or exercising but I had done that year after year with the same results. I would lose 30-40 pounds and then gain it right back. I couldn’t seem to be able to do it alone. I needed help and the surgery was the tool I needed. And that’s what it is. It’s a tool. If I don’t use it correctly, I don’t lose. It’s not a quick fix or an easy way out. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it has worked. All those medical conditions and medications are gone. I’m slowly building my stamina and can walk 20 minutes and still breathe. Best thing I ever did.

Talk about your recovery from surgery. Was healing difficult? Did you experience restrictions during recovery?

I took three weeks off for recovery and probably could have used another. Healing was painful as you have 5 incision sites in your abdomen and of course no matter how you move you are pulling one of them. It was a good week and a half before I even felt like moving much but we are told to at least walk a couple of times a day. That first week and a half I got to the end of the driveway and barely made it back inside to sit down. After that it got easier. I was making two laps and losing weight very fast. But getting very tired. The first week you only eat about a medicine cup full of liquid 3-4 times an hour. Second and third week you add in baby food and pureed foods but still no more than a few bites. By the fourth week you are slowly adding in soft food eggs and cream of wheat and corn beef were my go-tos but I couldn’t eat a whole egg. I couldn’t even eat the baby serving for cream of wheat.

How have your diet and eating habits changed since surgery?

Well I kinda started on this one in 6 but after the restrictions were lifted my habits changed in amount mostly. I never know if what I’m about to eat will settle well or not. One day I may be able to eat half a grilled chicken breast the next the same thing may make me sick. In the six months since surgery I have learned to replace potatoes and pasta with green beans and zucchini. I’m still not perfect and do have meals that I have the potatoes but I’m trying more and more to replace with the better choices. A typical meal now consists of 3-5 ounces of meat/protein 1-2 tbsp of veggies or potatoes or pasta or some combination of the veggies and carbs. A meal before consisted of 3-4 times the amount of all of that plus dessert. I can’t believe the amount of food that I used to eat.

To date, how much weight have you lost?

Since 8/28/18, I have lost 73.8 pounds. I have gone from a 26-28 size pantsand  3-4x shirt to a 16-18 size pants and a large -xl shirt.

Fashion Alert! I’m guessing you’ve shopped for new clothes, yes? That must be a blast! How did you feel trying on new clothes?

I actually only went shopping recently after I was given such a hard time about nothing fitting. I couldn’t believe I was in an 18. I had not been there in 15 plus years. And when I went to buy my wedding dress, the one we picked out the sales clerk said I don’t think this one will fit but we can get an idea. The feeling of that dress zipping all the way up is indescribable. I have never felt more beautiful and can’t wait to wear it at the end of the month.

Renee with her fiance, David.

Lastly, what advice would you give anyone considering weight loss surgery?

Advice that’s easy. Don’t wait. The one thing I regret is not doing it sooner. I feel better than I have in years. I have more energy and I’m enjoying life so much. Don’t let anyone talk you out of surgery. This is a very personal and difficult decision and one only you can make. Be strong and don’t give up it will all be worth it.

If you are interested in gastric bypass surgery, please visit WebMD for more information.

Blog Re-Vamp & Celebrating Women

March is National Women’s History Month – a month to celebrate women. Exciting!

This is also a new beginning for The Smoking Squirrel. I’ve been away for quite awhile and it is time I return to the world of blogging. I’ve missed it!

This month I will share so much with all of you. I am most thrilled about the interviews I’ll be posting. You will meet four incredible women who I am blessed to call my friends. Each one has a fantastic story and I am sure you all will thoroughly enjoy meeting them. I’ll be posting one interview each week. Please follow The Smoking Squirrel so you don’t miss out!

Here’s to women! Let’s celebrate!

Quick! Change the Channel!

I’m a re-run junkie. There. I’ve said it.

The latest television shows, news channels, sports channels…these things don’t interest me in the least. What I care about is keeping my brain clutter-free or at least free from television pollution so I tend to stick with re-runs.

I can quote verbatim every episode of I Love Lucy. I can tell you just from hearing the title of an episode of Roseanne what happens during that specific show. Dick Van Dyke trivia?  You can’t win. I know it all.

For years I’ve said that watching old television shows is good for you…for me…for all of us. They are relaxing. No violence, no profanity, no nudity. Just good TV. There isn’t a comedian alive today that is funnier than Jack Benny was. I can’t think of one single current television show that could possibly be more entertaining than watching a Dean Martin Roast.

Watching re-runs is, in my opinion, therapeutic and recently I read an article in Reader’s  Digest that confirms my theory. A study conducted by scientists at the University of Buffalo have concluded that watching re-runs is energizing. Why? Because re-runs don’t require mental effort. They are familiar. They bring about comfort. We can spend time with our favorite characters and take a break from the “real world” which, let’s face it, is downright exhausting.

The next time you feel guilty for jumping on Hulu to watch Mr. Ed or Netflix to binge watch Andy Griffith, don’t. Watch the shows you love and remember it’s good for you. Catch a classic, have some laughs and let your mind and body relax. Watching Fox News? Glued to E checking out latest reality show?  Quick! Change the channel!  Find an oldie but goodie. Take the break. You’ll be glad you did.



Making Your Money Back: Rebates & Surveys

So, I’m into rebates and surveys now.  I’ve installed rebate apps on my phone and take surveys off receipts from store and restaurant purchases.

First, let’s talk rebates.  These apps make redeeming crazy easy.  They are self-explanatory and simple to use.  I have an iPhone but I’m pretty sure both have apps for Android.  Here’s the quick lowdown.  You can click the links for more information.

CHECKOUT 51:  FREE.  Simple process.  Rebates are updated weekly.  You select the items you plan to purchase or have purchased , upload a photo of your receipt and done!  Once you’ve accumulated $20  in rebates you can transfer the money to your bank account or PayPal account.

IBOTTA:  FREE.  A tad bit more complicated than Checkout 51 but are also updated weekly.  These rebates are broken down by stores so you’ll have to search your store and then find the rebates you’re interested in.  Once you’ve shopped you’ll then to need to verify your purchases.  This involves scanning the bar code of the item(s) – bar code scanner is built-in to the app and then you upload a copy of your receipt or scan the QR code on your receipt – QR scanner also built in.  Some of the rebates are repeats.  For example, on staples such as eggs, milk, bread, etc. there are typically rebates available every week.  Once you’ve accumulated $20, you can cash out.

RECEIPT HOG:  FREE.  This one is a no-brainer. All you do is upload photos of your receipts and that’s it.  You earn coins for every receipt uploaded.  This one is a fairly slow process but why not do it?  Takes seconds to upload the photos.  No big deal.

The camera features is built-in to all 3 of these above apps.  This means you don’t have to give the apps access to your phone’s camera.  Also, cash-out options for these apps include several different store gift cards so you don’t have to actually withdraw the cash if you don’t want to. So far I’ve been able to cash out on both Checkout 51 and Ibotta once a month.  The rebates add up fast!

About the surverys…almost every store and restaurant has a survey request on their receipts.  Do them.  Some enter you into sweepstakes, some offer free items and others offer BOGO items.  They take seconds and it’s like the lottery – can’t win if you don’t play.  I also think your odds are a little better with surveys than with the lottery.  I do them quickly on my cell phone all the time.  Make sure you do the surveys as fast as possible.  Most offers expire after 7 days and then you can’t do them.

Go for it and have fun!


So I Want To Be A Writer…Do You?

I’m not sure what happened.  One day I woke up and decided it was time to be a writer.  The desire has always been there, lurking but aside from this blog and a few random pieces that nobody but I have read, being a writer – a professional paid writer – seemed a distant dream.  Sometimes we just have to take the leap, especially when we’ve run out of excuses.

I did it.  I woke up.  I took the leap.  I signed up on a freelance writing site and dove…hard.  I’m submitting proposals for every job I’m interested in and for which I’m qualified.  I’ve been at this for about 2 weeks, give or take a day.  I’ve secured 3 contracts.  There have been hiccups as is expected with any new endeavor.  That’s okay.  I call those hiccups “learning experiences.”

I’ve a few suggestions if you’re interested in freelance work.  Tidbits I’ve learned during my so far short career as a freelancer.

1.  Be prepared for rejection.  It will happen.  If it does happen, that’s okay.  Assume that wasn’t the right job for you and move on.

2.  If you choose to sign up on a freelance writing site, read the policies CAREFULLY.  Understand fully the ins and outs of how the site works and what they expect from you and the clients who might hire you.  The terms of the site are set up to protect you so don’t ignore them.

3.  Get organized.  Secret:  I’m not.  Not at all.  I have multiple legal pads with outlines,  I’ve got to make a run to Office Max for more post-it notes, pens are running out of ink, nothing is in one place, my hours are weird, I’m not sleeping well or long, I’m not eating right and in general my organization at the moment can only be described as “WTF?  A bomb went off in here or what?”  That not only applies to my workspace but my brain, as well.  I’m focusing on different projects with different topics and to say my thought process is scrambled is an understatement.  I’ll get it together.  My writing isn’t suffering but my advice to you is to get it together BEFORE you start writing.  Have a plan.

4.  Quiet the little voices in your head.  You know those voices (I call them Little Bitches) who attempt to cause doubt?  The ones that make you question every single word you write telling you they aren’t good enough?  That you aren’t good enough?  Shut those Little Bitches down.  QUICK.  They are evil and they are wrong.

5.  Write for yourself.  The most important thing writers should remember is at the end of the day, we are the ones who need to be happy with our work.  Yes, we may be writing for a company website or composing articles for a publication and yes, we want our clients to be 100% satisfied with our work but really, when it’s all said and done, we must be happy with our work.  We need to feel good about what we’ve written.

6.  Don’t overload yourself.  In other words, don’t be me.  I’m taking on whatever contract I can get.  I’ve got 4 articles that must be written by tomorrow.  I’ve got proposals waiting to grow up to be contracts.  I know me well enough to know I will take on everything I’m offered even if it means I’m working (too) many jobs at once.  I don’t care.  It happens that I’m rather skilled at multi-tasking.  Having multiple jobs doesn’t inhibit my ability to focus on what I’m writing.  But I will become frazzled.  I will get grouchy.  I will not sleep and forget to eat.  I will also love every second of it so unless you thrive in chaos, do yourself a favor and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

7.  When in doubt, ask questions.  If you feel unsure about a client, do not hesitate to investigate on your own.  Check out their website or blog, search Google for reviews of their business, ask the client direct questions and at the end of that if you’re still unsure or don’t feel comfortable with an offer, move on.  Intuition is key.  Listen.

8.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate terms of payment.  Some clients will pay by the hour, some pay by the job, some pay by the word.  Decide how you want to be paid.  Do your homework.  Research what other freelancers charge for their work.  Obviously, if you’re a “newbie” you can’t expect to make the big bucks but you can certainly expect to be paid what you’re worth.  Don’t undersell yourself.

9.  Pay for nothing.  If a client approaches you and says you must pay for a product or pay for the opportunity to write for them, just say no.  Those types of shady folks are out there so beware.

10.  Have a comfortable place to work.  I’m so struggling with this right now.  I am not comfortable in any place I sit so I’m constantly moving and it’s disruptive.  I’m having to use my bedroom as an office space and let me tell you, there is simply no room for both.  The other problem I’m having is I’m hot all the time.  I’m old, there are hot flashes from Hell.  I’m most comfortable sitting directly in front of the window AC but doing that means rearranging…well, rearranging a lot.  It’s a pain in my butt.  I am making it work but it isn’t ideal so set-up your work space before you start taking on jobs.  You’ll be glad you did.

11.  Take classes.  Update yourself on the latest Internet jargon.  Understand SEO.  Get a feel for basic marketing techniques.  Brush up on your grammar skills.  Free courses online are available.  Tons of them.  Take the time to educate yourself.  Learning should be a lifelong pursuit so take advantage of the freebies.  Alison is a great place to start but remember – Google is your friend.

12.  Don’t forget to write for yourself.  Don’t allow your own ideas and goals to get lost while writing for others.  Make time to continue writing for yourself.

13.  Build a portfolio.  Another secret:  I’ve not yet done this.  I need to work on it.  How does one build a portfolio, you ask?  Hard work.  Approach businesses you have some knowledge of or interest in and offer to write a blog post or maybe a newsletter for them, place an add on Fivver stating you’ll write an article or blog post in exchange for a good reference, maybe consider an add on Craigslist.  Don’t get sucked into huge projects.  You want a relatively small writing project to showcase your skills.  Make your expectations clear.  Write a letter to sell yourself, state your reasons for needing to build a portfolio and offer your services for free.  You really only need a few written pieces in your portfolio to begin your freelance career.  Once you establish yourself you then build your portfolio allowing you to seek out higher paying jobs.

Being a writer is about passion.  Passion for words, passion for seeing ideas come together to create a story, article or blog and passion for the very act of writing. Believe in what you’re doing.  Believe in yourself.  Make the committment and remember to own it – I AM A WRITER!  YOU ARE A WRITER!  We must claim it to be it.



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