Thursday, September 19, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - July/August





Ah. Another month where I said I would be better about writing my thoughts as soon as I finished a book, and another month where I sit here IN THE MIDDLE OF SEPTEMBER, trying to remember how I felt about the books I finished over a month ago. Whoops. My thoughts are short and sweet, y'all. (I WILL do better in September!)


*This post contains affiliate links, which means when you purchase something through that link, you're helping support this blog at no additional cost to you!*

(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)

63. Bear Town by Fredrik Backman (3.5/5 ★)

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.


I honestly think I chose this book because of the hockey theme, but it was about a lot more than that. I feel like it is geared toward a younger age group, probably older teen, as it is a tough topic on a pretty surface level. It took awhile to get into the plot. I was about a third of the way in and was thinking, "what is the point of this story??" It also wrapped up really quickly. I don't know. I think younger readers would enjoy it more than I did.

64. Four to Score by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5★)

Working for her bail bondsman cousin Vinnie, Stephanie is hot on the trail of revenge-seeking waitress Maxine Nowicki, whose crimes include bail jumping, theft, and extortion. Someone is terrifying Maxine's friends, and those who have seen her are turning up dead. Also on the hunt for Maxine is Joyce Barnhardt, Stephanie's archenemy and rival bounty hunter. Stephanie's attitude never wavers-- even when aided by crazy Grandma Mazur, ex-hooker and wannabe bounty hunter Lula, and transvestite rock musician Sally Sweet-- and even when Stephanie makes an enemy whose deadly tactics escalate from threatening messages to firebombs. All of this pales in comparison, though, with an even greater danger Stephanie faces, when, homeless and broke, she and her hamster Rex move in with a vice cop Joe Morelli. RATED PG35 for licentious wit and libidinous cohabitation.

Again, there is nothing I can say for this books that wasn't true for the rest of the series. I think I liked this one less than the first ones, but there were still parts that made me literally LOL.




65. A Murder in Music City: Corruption, Scandal, and the Framing of an Innocent Man by Michael Bishop (5/5 ★)

A private citizen discovers compelling evidence that a decades-old murder in Nashville was not committed by the man who went to prison for the crime but was the result of a conspiracy involving elite members of Nashville society.Nashville 1964. Eighteen-year-old babysitter Paula Herring is murdered in her home while her six-year-old brother apparently sleeps through the grisly event. A few months later a judge's son is convicted of the crime. Decades after the slaying, Michael Bishop, a private citizen,stumbles upon a secret file related to the case and with the help of some of the world's top forensic experts--including forensic psychologist Richard Walter (aka "the living Sherlock Holmes")--he uncovers the truth. What really happened is completely different from what the public was led to believe.Now, for the very first time, Bishop reveals the true story. In this true-crime page-turner, the author lays out compelling evidence that a circle of powerful citizens were key participants in the crime and the subsequent cover-up. The ne'er-do-well judge's son, who was falsely accused and sent to prison, proved to be the perfect setup man. The perpetrators used his checkered history to conceal the real facts for over half a century. Including interviews with the original defense attorney and a murder confession elicited from a nursing-home resident, the information presented here will change Nashville history forever.

This was my favorite book this month, I think mainly in part due to my familiarity with its setting. It was so easy for me to picture the places these events took place, even though Nashville has drastically changed since the 1960s. One thing I hated was that they kept calling the victim the 'babysitter' when she was the kid's older sister. I understand that was what the media called her when it all took place, but it just kept popping up and annoying me.  It was fascinating to read about the conspiracies and cover ups that took place.


66. The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand (3.5 ★)

It's Nantucket wedding season, also known as summer-the sight of a bride racing down Main Street is as common as the sun setting at Madaket Beach. The Otis-Winbury wedding promises to be an event to remember: the groom's wealthy parents have spared no expense to host a lavish ceremony at their oceanfront estate.

But it's going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons after tragedy strikes: a body is discovered in Nantucket Harbor just hours before the ceremony-and everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash interviews the bride, the groom, the groom's famous mystery-novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, he discovers that every wedding is a minefield-and no couple is perfect. Featuring beloved characters from The Castaways, Beautiful Day, and A Summer Affair, The Perfect Couple proves once again that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read.

This would have been the perfect beach read, though I listened to it on audiobook. A friend had recommended it to me, but I had also seen it recommended by a lot of bookstagramers this summer. This is the first Hilderbrand book that I've read, but afterwards I definitely plan on reading more. It was a fun little mystery that kept me guessing. I have seen many friends post about her, so I am excited to starting reading more from her collection.

67. A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (5/5★)


The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center - a women's reproductive health services clinic - its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage. 
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his 15-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic. 
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard. 
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day. 
I've read enough of Picoult to know that I don't usually care for her books.  The storyline is usually good, but they're so long and she drags them out that I lose interest.  This one was different. I loved this book. I listened to part on audiobook which may have helped because I speed up to 1.5x, but every part of it felt relevant and necessary to the story. Also, the performer for the audiobook was Bahni Turpin, who also performed The Hate U Give and she is fabulous. I originally chose this book because of her narration, actually.

68. Still Alice by Lisa Genova (4/5★)


Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what's it's like to literally lose your mind...
This book was recommended to me pretty frequently, so I finally got around to reading it. Alzheimer's isn't something I've had personal experience with - as in I've never known anyone who has had it - so this was really my first perspective. It is a fictional story, but in a realistic sense. I watched the movie afterwards which was also good, minus the whole Kristin Stewart thing.

Image result for thin air 69. Thin Air by Lisa Gray (3/5★)


Private investigator Jessica Shaw is used to getting anonymous tips. But after receiving a photo of a three-year-old kidnapped from Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, Jessica is stunned to recognize the little girl as herself.
Eager for answers, Jessica heads to LA’s dark underbelly. When she learns that her biological mother was killed the night she was abducted, Jessica’s determined to solve a case the police have forgotten. Meanwhile, veteran LAPD detective Jason Pryce is in the midst of a gruesome investigation into a murdered college student moonlighting as a prostitute. A chance encounter leads to them crossing paths, but Jessica soon realizes that Pryce is hiding something about her father’s checkered history and her mother’s death.
To solve her mother’s murder and her own disappearance, Jessica must dig into the past and find the secrets buried there. But the air gets thinner as she crawls closer to the truth, and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe.

I read this one on my kindle spread over some time. I don't read digital books often, but I always keep one on my phone just in case I'm stuck somewhere waiting. I received this free through Prime reading, and it was okay. I was curious throughout the story, but didn't feel like it was overly suspenseful.

70. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (3/5★)

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben.

Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.


Of her three books that I have read, this is my least favorite. It wasn't bad, it was just weird, way too weird. That is all.


71. The Elizas by Sara Shepard (3/5 ★)

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.


I chose this book because it was written by the same author as the Pretty Little Liar and The Lying Game series, which I loved when I read them five years ago. This one was a little slower. About half way through I got a little more into it and felt like the suspense increased, but it definitely wasn't a favorite. 

Image result for high five janet evanovich 72. High Five by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Out of bail skippers and rent money, Stephanie Plum throws caution to the wind and follows in the entrepreneurial bootsteps of Super Bounty Hunter, Ranger, engaging in morally correct and marginally legal enterprises. So, a scumball blows himself to smithereens on her first day of policing a crack house and the sheik she was chauffeuring stole the limo. But hey, nobody's perfect! Anyway, Stephanie has other things on her mind. Her mother wants her to find Uncle Fred who's missing after arguing with his garbage company; homicidal rapist Benito Ramirez is back, quoting scripture and stalking Stephanie; vice cop Joe Morelli has a box of condoms with Stephanie's name on it; and Stephanie's afraid Ranger has his finger on her trigger.

I listened to this one on audiobook because the library didn't have a physical copy and I didn't want to wait until I could get to McKay's. Everyone said the audiobooks were great, but I didn't love it. The narrator was weird, and not in a good way. I like to speed up my audiobooks, but I listened to this one via discs and was unable to speed it up, so it felt like the story moved slow because the narration was slow. Still a fun, lighthearted story though!

73. Hot Six by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5★)


Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and Trenton vice cop Joe Morelli join forces to find the madman killer who shot and barbecued the youngest son of international black-market arms dealer Alexander Ramos.
Carlos Manoso, street name Ranger, is caught on video just minutes before the crime occurs. He's at the scene, he's with the victim, and he's the number-one suspect. Ranger is former special forces turned soldier of fortune. He has a blue-chip stock portfolio and no known address. He moves in mysterious circles. He's Stephanie's mentor--the man who taught her everything she knows about fugitive apprehension. And he's more than her friend.
Now he's the hunted and Stephanie's the hunter, and it's time for her to test her skills against the master. But if she does catch him...what then? Can she bring herself to turn him in?

Plus there are other things keeping Stephanie awake at night. Her maternal grandmother has set up housekeeping in Stephanie's apartment, a homicidal maniac has selected Stephanie as his next victim, her love life is in the toilet, she's adopted a dog with an eating disorder, and she can't button the top snap on her Levi's.

See above thoughts haha. As I've said before, these books are mostly all the same, but they're fun and light, especially when read between books with heavier content or extra suspense.

Image result for the silent patient74. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (4/5★) 


Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations―a search for the truth that threatens to consume him....

Holy cow. yes to this book. Yes yes yes. At first I was like, "nah, kinda slow and predictable." Then I finsihed it. And as it turns out it was not predictable. I feel like I should have figured it out before I got to the end, but I didn't. I was fooled.


75. Becoming by Michelle Obama (5/5 ★)

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. 

 
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.


I waited forever and a year to finally get my hands on a copy of this one. And then I didn't have the time to actually sit down and read it once I finally got it checked out.  Luckily, a friend had a copy she let me borrow! I just want to start by saying, I LOVE Michelle's writing, just absolutely love it.  She writes so eloquently; it was a very smooth read. That being said, it is LONG. I put it down and picked it up a handful of times, eventually finishing it on audiobook (which I enjoyed since Michelle was the narrator). She speaks at such a higher level however, that it is a lot to handle at one time. I broke it up with other books quite frequently. Outside of Barrack's presidency, I knew very little about her life, so this was an interesting read.

76. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (5/5★)
Image result for on the come up

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.  
Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

I listened to this on audiobook after LOVING Thomas's The Hate You Give. The narrator is absolutely fabulous - I've raved about her before. This was another great book by Thomas. Whether you read a physical/digital copy, or listen to it via audio, I definitely recommend it. It is so very eye opening to anyone NOT living a life like this.


77. Seven Up by Janet Evanovich (3.5★)


Semiretired mob guy Eddie DeCooch is caught trafficking contraband cigarettes through Trenton, New Jersey. When DeCooch fails to show for a court appearance, bond enforcement agent Stephanie Plum is assigned the task of finding him and dragging his decrepit ass back to jail. Not such an easy job, it turns out, since DeCooch has learned a lot of tricks over the years and isn't afraid to use his gun. He's already shot Loretta Ricci, an innocent old lady, and left her for worm food in his shed. He wouldn't mind shooting Stephanie next.
Likeable losers (and Steph's former high school classmates) Walter "MoonMan" Dunphy and Dougie "The Dealer" Kruper have inadvertently become involved with DeCooch. They've gotten sucked into an operation that is much more than simple cigarette smuggling and holds risks far greater than anyone could have imagined.
When Dougie disappears, Steph goes into search mode. When Mooner disappears, she calls in the heavy artillery and asks master bounty hunter Ranger for help. Ranger's price for the job? One night with Stephanie, dusk to dawn. Not information she's want to share with her sometime live-in roommate, vice cop Joe Morelli,
A typical dilemma in the world of Plum.
And on the homefront, Stephanie's "perfect" sister, Valerie, has decided to move back to Trenton, bringing her two kids from hell with her. Grandma Mazur is asking questions about being a lesbian, and Bob, the bulimic dog, is eating everything in sight--including the furniture.
Mud wrestling, motorcycles, fast cars, fast food, and fast men. It's Seven Up. Absolutely Janet Evanovich at her very best.

Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V above thoughts :) 

Image result for bring me back78. Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris (4/5★)


Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone―never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.
Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him...even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.

Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla―hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive―and on Finn’s trail―what does she want? And how much does she know?

This book was strange, and unpredictable. I've read a couple B.A. Paris before, but I think this has been my favorite. It was suspenseful and kept you wondering throughout! 

Image result for just one night79. Just One Night by Gayle Forman (5/5 ★) 

It all starts when American good girl Allyson--better known as Lulu-- decides to spend just one day in Paris with Dutch hottie Willem. It's a whirlwind adventure filled with heart-racing romance, but the next day Willem is gone without a trace. What follows is one year of searching that ends with a steamy reunion on the one wonderful night when they finally find one another again. Filled with mystery, drama, adventure, and of course romance, this is a swoony and satisfying entry point for new readers of Gayle Forman's bestselling fiction.

To be compeltely honest, this book was rated because I loved the series rather than just this story. Just One Night was a short story that goes along with Just One Day  and Just One Year. The whole set is linked in the title. Forman is the author of If I Stay, which is what originally led me to read this series. I definitely prefer this series to the If I Stay books. I put off reading this one because they only make a digital copy and I had been hoping a hard copy would come out so I could buy it to put with the others. It never did so I finally caved and checked it out via Kindle!


Reading Challenge: 78/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Muddy Princess 5K 2019


We all know how I feel about non-competitive exercise, and running a race absolutely doesn't count as competition to me - I'm more of a team sports kinda girl. However, playing in the mud in a tutu AND a tiara is absolutely the kind of exercise I can get on board with! 

The Muddy Princess tickets were $80 if you were to buy them in the weeks leading up to the event, but if you volunteered, you could "run" for free! (Which is exactly what we did, and I have to say I did enjoy the volunteering bit as well).
Dyana and I are really hoping to get a good size group together to go next year. We had a blast, but it was so fun seeing the large groups of women obstacle-ing together in their matching socks, shirts, and tutus (or my personal favorite costumes - the Handmaids!) If you want to join us next year (and you absolutely 100% should!) here is some stuff to know!



TO BRING WHEN VOLUNTEERING
  • A lawn chair to sit in between heats
  • An umbrella to keep you cool as you sit in your lawn chair between heats
  • Cold water
  • More cold water
  • Cooler for your cold water
  • Snacks (They give you a sandwich, a snack, and water, but the sandwich was a small Subway 4" and slightly soggy from sitting in a cooler and the water was warm)
  • A book (or something to keep you occupied between heats)
  • Portable phone charger so you can play on your phone between heats but still have a full battery to take pictures with throughout your race!
  • SUNSCREEN and a hat or visor, sunglasses
Volunteers get a t-shirt at the beginning, and get 3 free photo downloads from the professional photographers that are stationed around the course. You can also check in your belongings at bag check for free (it is $5 for normal participants). 


TO BRING WHEN PARTICIPATING
  • Cheap shoes: they have a tent where you can donate your muddy shoes after the event. You can bring an old pair, or just get a cheap Walmart pair that will still be in good, albeit dirty, condition to donate at the end. I wore my Chacos- not cheap and I did not donate them, but I’m totally fine with them getting muddy. There were people losing their running shoes in the mud, and others running barefoot. I wouldn’t recommend running sans shoes, as the terrain isn’t exactly pleasant for the sole-less
  • A plastic grocery bag: after the course there are showers for you to wash off in. You can change or just rinse off. Honestly I don’t think any amount of standing in that dribble they call a shower would have rinsed the mud from my clothing. After ten minutes of "rinsing," I ended up tossing my tutu, but I wish I would have brought a plastic grocery bag to have put my shirt in so I didn’t have to carry it while trying not to get mud over everything else I owned as I picked up my stuff from bag check. I brought extra clothes to change into, but I ended up leaving them in my backpack and driving home in my sports bra and towel. Some people changed into "clean" clothes, but honestly you're still so covered in mud at the end that I don't think it would be worth it.
  • Water proof phone case: I have this one, it was covered in mud by the end but I was able to take pictures with my phone in the case throughout the course and my phone stayed dry and clean!
  • Draw string bag: Dyana and I set down our water bottles and phones for each obstacle, but next year I'm going to bring a cheap draw string bag.  There were only a couple of obstacles that I wouldn't have worn it in, and I think it would be easier to have something to carry my stuff that I brought with on the course than carrying it in my hands and setting it down at every stop
  • Cold water: There were only two water stations set up around the event, and the water was air temperature - which on this 95 degree day meant WARM. You can toss plastic bottles along the course, so I'd recommend packing a few frozen ones that you can discard along the way
  • Not super nice clothes: I'm honestly not sure if I will ever get the mud out of my shirt and shorts...When I came home, I showered (for like an hour) and continuously rinsed the mud out of my clothes. They're still stiff with mud....

ABOUT THE COURSE

The Muddy Princess is a 5K obstacle course, which means you’re running (read: walking) 5 kilometers while participating in 18 obstacles along the way. The obstacles were:
  1. Mud pit & mud slide
  2. Giant hurdles to climb over
  3. Sack race
  4. Giant mud puddle to wade through
  5. Log ladder thing
  6. “Jail” which was climbing under a toppled fence in a mud pit sort of situation
  7. Water station and balance beams
  8. Punching bags
  9. Army crawl under a net in mud 
  10. Walk across a seesaw
  11. Climb up, over, and down a tire wall
  12. Crawl/roll under tires
  13. Water station and mud pit with beach balls that you wade through using a net to help you
  14. Two more mud pits with a hill to climb and mudslide to slide down
  15. Walking across chains
  16. Use a rope to climb a slanted “wall”
  17. Army crawl under another net
  18. Wade through another mud pool with floatie things you have to climb on to make it to the finish line
   
   


I would recommend long socks. I didn’t wear any socks, and my legs kept getting scratched in the nature on the trail. Also, there was a huge, steep freaking hill in between obstacles 9 and 10, which Dyana deemed, “Heatstroke Hill,” due to the number of people that needed the medics to come and retrieve them while climbing it. (You find out a lot about what goes on when you volunteer and get to carry a walkie talkie around!) That hill was definitely the most exhausting part of the course, but if you take a break as needed it’s not so bad.

The view from "Heatstroke Hill"
AT THE FINISH

All participants get a medal and a swag bag at the end with goodies from various vendors/donors. There were some food trucks there for you to grab some grub, and a merchandise tent for all of your Muddy Princess gear. A few other vendors were set up as well with information regarding different programs as well as free samples.

Before

After

There are two runs in the Nashville area next year - one north of Nashville and one south of Nashville. I'm not sure which we will do, but we will definitely be doing it again. If the inviting photos above weren't enough to convince you to join us next year, then just take my word for it - we had a BLAST, but the more people we can get, the more fun we will have!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Summer 2019 Roadtrip - Gulf Shores/Fort Morgan






This summer has officially proven to me that spontaneous trips are the best trips.  We had been lounging in the pool the week before we left, when the need to be at the beach struck. Discussing schedules, I realized that I only had four days left this summer with no plans - luckily everyone else's schedules aligned with those four days. We struggled in finding a place to stay in the Gulf Shores area so last minute, and had all but given up when a 4-person VRBO magically appeared - obviously as a sign confirming our need for sun and sand. The weather looked good and the "book now" button was clicked in record time. Unfortunately, only a few days later, we saw a hurricane was predicted for the area. The day before departure we still weren't sure we would be able to go because of weather (and also this flesh-eating bacteria business!) Thankfully the morning of it looked as though the worst of the storm would miss us, and we knew that even if it rained all weekend, we could still have fun.

Day 1: Thursday, July 11, 2019

We left at 6AM for our trip to Fort Morgan, Alabama. Never before has a nine hour drive gone so fast!! Time flies when you're having fun! Apparently it also flies when you have Cookie Monster giving you directions while jamming to 90s country...As soon as we got to Gulf Shores, we stopped for food and snacks (priorities!).  You know how you're not suppose to go grocery shopping when you're hungry? Oops. Somehow we managed to squeeze all of our supplies in with us and our luggage into my little Corolla.


Beach Day 1
The second we got to our condo, we put on our suits and headed to the beach - unpacking could wait, as according to all of the weather apps, this could be our only opportunity to experience the beach with the sun in the sky. (Spoiler: it wasn't!) On our way there, we met the security guard, Earl. Our introductions provided him with fake names (because safety first!), and he was quite smitten with "Allie." 😝 He gave us directions on getting to the beach.  We sat in the sand and chatted, letting the waves wash over us...or sometimes wash us away!


Since we were on the outskirts of Hurricane Barry, the waves and wind were insane. There were riptide warnings posted everywhere, unsurprisingly. As soon as one wave headed back out to sea, another one was rushing in. It was easy to see why it was advised for people to be wary of going into the gulf.  The waves were able to carry us away, I can't imagine having children near that. Standing in the dry sand also provided a fun opportunity to get pelted with sand particles that felt like a bunch of tiny missiles - the wind, y'all!

Beach
I had gotten out of the sand to attempt to rinse off, when I saw something move. "Crab!" I yelled, causing the rest of them to look where I was pointing, scream, and fight the incoming waves to get up and away from the crustacean. The palm sized ghost crab scattered away, gliding sideways along the sand, as we laughed about how unexpectedly hilarious the situation had just been. It was the first of many ghost crabs we would see over the course of the weekend.

Bay
Eventually we headed back towards the condo, rinsed the sand off with a hose, and slipped into the pool on site. We had an indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub. Side note here - we stayed at the Dunes Condos, which we would all recommend for grown up gatherings. There isn't a lot for children to do in the area, but the beach is much less packed than the Gulf Shores beaches. From our room we could see the beach from the balcony, and the bay on the opposite side of the peninsula from our doorway.




Karaoke Ready!







For dinner we popped in a pizza from the store and got ready for the evening.  We had been told by a friend that Tacky Jack's had karaoke at 9, and we love our karaoke! It was only a 0.2 mile walk from the condo (again, great location for adults looking to escape the chaos of children!) Our song choices for the night were "How Do You Like Me Now" by Toby Keith, and "Two  Piña Coladas" by Garth Brooks, inspired by our 90s country carpool karaoke on the drive down. No one booed us, and the guy in charge of karaoke decorated us with boas, so I think that means we rocked it. After a late night, and fun conversation, we wandered back to the condo for leftover pizza and laughs before bed.



Hiding out from the rain

Day 2: Friday, July 12, 2019

We all slept in this morning and enjoyed donuts and coffee (not me!) for breakfast.  The sun was out, which we weren't expecting, so we wandered down to the beach to take a stroll.  On our way down to the beach, it started to downpour! We ran to the nearest beach house and hid under the carport until it tapered off. 

Luckily it didn't take long, and we sauntered up and down the beach for an hour.  It was crazy to see the damage from the wind the night before.  The steel beams from beach canopies were bent and mangled, and there was plenty of other debris scattered about the sand.  The wind was wild, but all of the sand was wet, so we didn't get attacked by it like yesterday.







We came back to the condo and got ready to go into town for lunch.  We went to ACME Oyster House, where I promised I would TRY an oyster.  I ordered fish and fries, but I did try one of Angel's oysters. It was actually pretty good, but don't tell her I said that. 


We stopped back at the store for a few more supplies before heading back to the condo.  The sun was still out, so we changed into our suits and went back down to the beach.  We sat in the water for awhile, but the waves were still so crazy from the hurricane to the west of us. We could be sitting in the sand having conversation one second, and the next thing we knew a two foot wave would pick us up and carry us ashore.

We were promised that an awesome band would be playing tonight at Tacky Jack's, so after showering and getting ready, we hung out for awhile before heading back down the road. As we walked in, we were greeted by people who remembered us from the night before.  We met some others from Tennessee as well, and had a great time. Before we knew it, it was after midnight and we were heading back to our condo for more pizza. We sat on the balcony for awhile, cracking up over the fun we'd had so far, and creating more memories. Do you ever start laughing and feel like you can't stop?? Because that is 100% what this weekend felt like. The walks back from Tacky Jack's and our evening balcony chats were my favorite. 💗



Day 3: Saturday, July 13, 2019


As I woke up, everyone else was still in bed, so I went out on the balcony to listen to music and watch the waves. We came into the weekend expecting rain the whole time, but thus far we had barely experienced any! It was raining HARD this morning though, coming down almost completely sideways. I watched the palm trees trying their hardest to stand their ground, but when the rain began to drench the balcony, I went back inside. Normally stormy weather would ruin a vacation, but since we had already gotten more sun than we expected, the weather made sitting inside together even more cozy.

We hung around the condo for awhile, chatting and deciding what to do for the day. Two years ago it would have driven me crazy to plan a trip such short notice and have no actual itinerary. The Gretchen of today LOVED this.  Because the trip was a spur of the moment decision, we had no schedule to stick to, which meant we could fly by the seat of our pants and do what we wanted when we wanted, which meant that today we were getting milkshakes for lunch!

We headed back into Gulf Shores, about a 20-30 minute drive, to go to The Yard Milkshake Bar.  A small shake was more than enough to fill all of us! There were a billion choices, and we each picked different ones.  I had the unicorn - I love cotton candy ice cream!!



After "lunch," we drove back to the condo.  Stuffed to the max with our sugary treats and exhausted from our late night before, we each snuggled into our own comfy spots to nap/read/listen to music for a couple hours. Our trip was meant to be relaxing, so we made sure to get some R&R!!

We had packed plenty of games just in case we were stuck inside all weekend due to weather, so after our solo chill time, we figured we should play one. Mary brought Mexican Train Dominoes - it was so fun!!

The time came to decide our goal for the night - either go back to Tacky Jack's or hang out at the condo and play games. Since we had a long drive ahead of us the next day, and we were already in "chill" mode, we decided on staying in. It was nearing sunset, so we wandered back down to the beach for one last walk.  We were extra excited about this one, because we knew the ghost crabs would be out! (Okay, maybe we all weren't excited about the ghost crabs, but I certainly was!!) We took off down the beach in the opposite direction that our walks had been so far.  On the return, we spotted ghost crabs EVERYWHERE! We had to move in slow motion to get pictures of them, otherwise they would scurry off into their holes. Luckily there were so many of them that we had a lot of opportunity!!

Can you spot the ghost crab?
Friends

Following our beach walk we went back up to our floor and pulled out What Do You Meme? It was the first time they had played, and we were rolling in laughter!! (If you've never played, its like Cards Against Humanities except with memes and captions). What a perfect ending to an already incredible weekend.

Day 4: Sunday, July 14, 2019

None of us were thrilled about this trip coming to a close. I'm usually ready to be home in my own bed by the end of the trip, but something about this summer has been different. I love home, but I love adventuring with friends even more. For me, home is people, more than it is a place, and since my Tennessee people were with me, home was at the beach!

We slowly got packed up and loaded up the car before heading into Gulf Shores for breakfast.  Of course this day happened to be sunny!! Mary had been to a cute little diner in the area before, so we decided to go there.  Hazel's Nook was exactly what you expect when you go to a breakfast diner in Alabama. The food was good and it the atmosphere had a very southern feel to it.

After eating, we begrudgingly got back in the car for the long drive home.

Girls' trips are the best, y'all. My heart is so full.