Cup 29: Kristin Sheppard – Pop culture connoisseur, shark fanatic and blogger rock star.

Kristin Sheppard Blog Mad BettyThe Place: Frank

The Cup: A cup of fine, smooth coffee (pour-over style) for me, and a Bloody Mary for Kristin. Yep, a Bloody Mary and holy moley, I don’t even like a Bloody Mary, but after the sip Kristin shared, I am a capital F-A-N, fan!  Amazing!  And, if you’re hungry, the pepperoncini, olive, hunk of cheese and generous slice of bacon makes the thing a little meal.

Bloody Mary awesomenessBackground: I discovered Kristin’s blog, Mad Betty a few months back and was instantly digging her. She writes about pop culture, local eats, treats and beverages, as well as pretty much any other awesome topic she finds inspiring. I love her subject matter, but what I love even more is her voice. She is at once a keen observer, a thoughtful wordsmith, an intellectual, and ridiculously funny. But more on that in just a bit.  First, how about some:

Common Grounds

  1. What was the last awesome meal you ate? I cooked baked trout topped with sesame seeds, roasted brussels sprouts and kimchi.
  2. What is the best part about your job? The invites to all the great events.
  3. If you were famous, what would you be famous for? Murdering someone – in a creative way.
  4. What is your favorite movie? Coming to America
  5. What is your best feature? My vocabulary. {Damn! Great answer, right?  er…or, superlative elucidation,indubitably?}
  6. What is something you wish you owned? A home gym.
  7. What was your favorite TV show as a kid? Muppets (as a little kid) and Golden Girls. {Kristin added that she was raised by two book lovers so she tended to read much more than watch TV.}
  8. What’s the last book you read? This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  9. What is your three song playlist? 1) The Roots, Seed 2.0, 2) Beastie Boys, Paul Revere, and 3) The Rolling Stones, Fool to Cry

Throw a stone in Austin and you are likely to hit a food truck, a musician, a dog and eight bloggers. By the way, your kindergarten teacher was right – it’s never OK to throw rocks. Or eat paste…Stewart!

Yes, its true, everyone in this town is a blogger, it seems. I read there are 42 million blogs worldwide built on WordPress alone. Some days it seems a disproportionate number of those hail from Austin. Some stink a lot (first and only post is titled Hello World), some stink a little (last updated in Aug. 2010) but TONS of them are amazing.

Why so many? I don’t have a factual reason, but I suspect it has something to do with the vast content this city offers. Want the inside scoop to the people and places uniquely Austin? No shortage of great blogs to check out. One of my favorites, When In Austin, comes from Cup 16, Terry Grier. Want to know what’s going on in town? Plenty of great blogs to choose from. How about live music – there’s a blog for that (several actually). Enjoy delicious grub? Food bloggers might just be the most prolific writers in town. In fact, there is entire organization called Austin Food Blogger Alliance dedicated to food blogging. If you are looking for some great reading, check out their membership list (where you will find  Cup 24, Josh Kimbell’s blog The Avocado Apex as well as our very own Kristin Sheppard’s blog Mad Betty).

Mad Betty, eh? Curious about the name? I was too. Turns out the story behind the name is more pragmatic than provocative. It boils down to these criteria; edgy, easy to spell, and with an available dot com. Betty is a name associated with girl surfers. Kristin grew up on the Jersey Shore (no, she doesn’t know Snooki) where surfing was a big part of the culture. Mad Betty is also a term used by folks across the pond to describe a crazy lady, usually older like a mom or grandma. I’d just like to add, Mad Betty would also make a fitting name for a creative serial killer (recall her answer to #3 above). Just sayin’.

Jersey Shore girl ends up in Austin…how? Turns out her and Mr. Mad Betty’s story is quite similar to mine and Mr. Coffee With a Stranger’s- we are here because we want to be and decided to find a way to make our lives fit around the relocation. For Kristin et al, the move five years ago was a choice between Austin, Miami and Seattle. She’s thrilled that Austin won out, because they are as much in love with this city as the rest of us.

It wasn’t easy to leave family and jobs behind to set out into the great unknown. So challenging, in fact, that when asked to name her greatest achievement to date, this move is her answer. Upon reflection, she tells me she can’t imagine having let the fear win out and staying in one place forever. She points out that should they ever decide to do it again, the next move will be even easier. I hope she sticks around though, and I’m certainly not the only one!

Someone else who’d be bummed if she left is Kristin’s neighbor. When they first moved into their place, Kristin observed that her neighbor had a bunch of football decals hanging in the window – which she pointed out to her husband, saying, “Looks like there’s a guy here who you’ll be able to watch games with.” Turns out that “guy” was Alice, a 94-year-old liberal firecracker. In addition to sharing a love of the game, they also get knocks at the door with jars that need opening, or internet that needs fixing. Kristin admits that Alice is really the only neighbor they’ve connected with, then laughs and muses “I’m not really sure what that says about us.”

Some bloggers are writers. Some just love a certain subject matter and are drawn to write about it. For Kristin, it’s a combination.

By day, Kristin is an in-demand freelance writer who has worked in pharmaceutical, textbook publishing, non-profit and advertising. She describes her style as “short, punchy and compelling.” She admits that copywriting isn’t exactly exciting stuff. So the blog is her creative outlet where she can express herself and tap into her inner stores of silly. She reminds me of high school days when girls (typically) would pass notes to one another with activities like A-Z lists. For a time, this sort of thing spread via email – “fill in your answers and send to 10 people including me (or you’ll get eaten my a giant squid within 6 hours).” The giant squid fear-mongering is what turned me off, but in concept, I do have fond memories of such activities. Incidentally, Kristin is still a fan of passing notes. She frequently sends friends handwritten notes, explaining, “Who doesn’t love getting good mail?” She’s right!

The blog also keeps her learning and plugged in to the hot Austin social scene. Kristin, who is a self-taught webmaster, is planning to take classes to learn basic coding. She already added photography skills to her arsenal after realizing people want to see what she’s talking about. Kristin says,”I don’t want to be someone who doesn’t do something because I don’t know how. You can learn how to do anything.”

An upside to being a hot blogger is the VIP invites she gets to events around town. Most recently, she attended a restaurant opening in The Domain one night, followed by a bar event in the burgeoning Rainy Street District and the next morning was up early to be a judge at That Takes the Cake – the largest private cake competition in the country. I get a little worn out just reading her posts and hearing the stories and wondered if she ever felt the same way. She admitted to me that although sometimes she might be tempted to beg off an evening out on the town, knowing she needs stuff to write about is the fuel that gets her to throw on some boots and lip gloss and go out.

As a fan of cake competitions on The Food Network, I was interested in hearing more about her cake judging experience. She selected Angel Food cake as her category, which I found interesting. Her explanation was that after several late nights including adult beverages, she didn’t see how at 8am she could handle layers of fondant, creamy, gooey moon pies or rich, homemade candy. Angel Food was always a family favorite and much lighter than the other options. Sold!

Kristin was surprised that some of her fellow judges wanted to be tough on the competitors. She offered up an idea that perhaps they should assume each cake was made by some little grandma and this was the very first time she’d ever entered a competition. Kristin looks and me, raises her eyebrows and says, “I mean, it’s just cake!” On Kristin’s insistence, the judges were kind and every contestant in the Angel Food cake category received thoughtful, kind and encouraging feedback. Don’t you just love her?

Kristin is a bucket list kinda girl, and tops on the list is a shark dive experience you can enjoy off the coast of San Francisco. You are placed in a cage and dropped into the water where Great White sharks circle around you, I can only assume concocting delicious recipes in their head featuring human. Moving on to bucket list items I can relate to, Kristin also wants to live in Paris, Rome or both. Fun! She’d also like to learn to downhill ski.

“What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?” I asked. “I’m a cryer,” Kristin replied. They hear the Jersey/Philly accent and assume she’s tough. But they fact is, sad movies and homeless kittens set her off. I added that I can’t watch videos on Facebook without crying over some kid who passed the basketball to a kid on the other team who had a disability so that he could feel the thrill of making a basket. She knew the video and maybe there was dust in the air, but I think I saw her eyes well up just a little at the memory.

IMG_1298I asked Kristin what website she checks first in the morning and, not surprisingly, she’s a social media maven. “I’m overly connected to my social media – maybe to a fault. People talk about taking a break from it – giving it up for a day or so, which sounds terrifying and horrible.” Of Twitter she says, “It’s the key to meeting people in Austin.” Which I have to admit, it exactly how the two of us ended up across from one another at Frank.  She says, “It’s amazing how people can represent themselves in 140 characters or less.” Quick to preface that she’s no stalker, Kristin does like following celebrities, and enjoys the occasional interaction with them.

Once she’s updated herself on her own network of peeps, she moves on to checkout trending topics, she reads Huffington Post and then combs through the scores of blogs she follows. “I read a ton of blogs,” she says and when asked to name one she admires, she surprises me a little with Pioneer Woman. But as she explains, here is a woman who lives on a ranch and home schools her children, and even to those who have no interest in that life, she comes across as relatable. She is able to turn a lifestyle, unappealing to many, and make it romantically enticing. That really is the sign of a gifted writer.

If Kristin had 30 seconds to make a speech to the world, what would she say? She says her message would be about compassion, and points to Ghandi as a good example of humility and kindness. “I would encourage people to take a moment to be humble each day. Turn the other cheek. Find peace.”

Upon reflection of Kristin’s message, I am reminded of perhaps the most famous Ghandi quote:

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I’m awestruck at how fitting that statement is when looking at Kristin. She envisions a world where people are kind to one another and are humble. Where they agree – it’s just cake. Where words of encouragement are offered up, rather than criticism. A world where people open jars for their neighbors, and open their hearts as well. Kristin is the change; and, she reminds me, so are we.

7 thoughts on “Cup 29: Kristin Sheppard – Pop culture connoisseur, shark fanatic and blogger rock star.

  1. Melissa.

    Another great story to read. As someone who recently got to spend an hour with Mad Betty – I think I learned more about her by reading your post. You posts never disappoint. Of course extra brownie points for giving When in Austin a shout out! :)

    Terry
    @wheninaustin

    1. Terry – Thanks for your kindness and your continued support! When In Austin ROCKS! Thanks for the work you devote to putting together such an incredible show! Loving the new additions as well!

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