Tuesday, December 12, 2017

7 Water Infusions You Have To Try (Plus the Perfect Water Bottle to Try Them In)




As a kid, the only thing I would drink was water. I hated milk, lemonade, and anything with the word "juice" in it. As an adult, I'm still not a fan of juice or milk, but I no longer naturally drink enough water in a day. I knew I needed to drink more water, but I had such a difficult time trying to force myself to. I decided to try infusing fruit into my water to give it a little flavor in hopes that I would naturally drink more of it, and I wanted to share some of my favorite infusion combinations!


The only downside to infusing my water was the fruit bits floating around. I especially love citrusy fruits in my water, but I am not a fan of the floating seeds or pulp that come with it. Lucky for me, the Mami Wata Fruit Infuser Water Bottle was invented! This water bottle was a game changer for me because it has a specific space for storing the fruit so that you don't get all the little floaties, but still get all of the flavor! As another bonus floatie blocker, there is a strainer at the top of the water bottle too, so if you wanted to let your fruit just free float, instead of putting it in the designated space you could, and you still wouldn't have to worry about swallowing seeds! The water bottle locks when you're not using it so that it won't spill or leak if it tips over, and it comes with a fitting sleeve to help keep your water cold longer.



Do you have any favorite infusions? I would love it if you would share them with me in the comments!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#gretchensbooks2017

I have been a total book nerd since I was first able to read.  I was the kid who would read under my blankets with a flashlight after my parents went to bed. My childhood summer mornings were often spent at the public library; I would come home in the afternoon with a paper bag full of books, only to read and return them all the next week and repeat the process all over again. (Okay, you get the picture).

My Goodreads goal for 2017 was to read 24 books, audiobooks included. (Do you have a Goodreads account? Friend me!) I met my goal, and even beat it by 6! Whoo!

Anyway, to the point...I've been documenting my reads on instagram for the last three years which you can find by searching the following hashtags:

#gretchensbooks2015
#gretchensbooks2016
#gretchensbooks2017

That being said, I am often asked for reading recommendations, but I have such a hard time recommending books because everyone differs in their reading preferences.   So, here is my reading list (with reviews) from the past year; if you're looking for something to read and want to know what I would recommend, browse the list and find one that is fitting to your style! (Included are affiliate links that will take you straight to Amazon so you can buy the book!) I know that 2017 isn't over yet, but with the holidays ahead of us, I wanted to get this out in time for people to add books to their Christmas lists, or treat their family/friends. Because this post is freakin' LONG and it was hard to  remember books from the beginning of the year when I began this post, next year I am going to put out monthly book posts!


1. Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham (5/5 ★)

Growing up, I remember coming home from middle school just in time for Gilmore Girls to come on ABC Family at 4PM.  I loved sitting down to watch the bond between Rory and Lorelei develop through witty banter and coffee at Luke's.

Fast forward ten years down the road, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life was released, and I had just finished binge-watching Parenthood when I saw that Lauren Graham had released an autobiography. I hopped on Amazon.com and had the book in my hands two days later.  Less than 24 hours after it arrived, I gently closed the back cover, feeling disappointed that it was over.  Lauren Graham was just as funny in Talking As Fast As I Can as I remembered her being in Gilmore Girls years before.  I highly recommend this book to any Gilmore Girls fan!



2. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (5/5 ★)

Reconstructing Amelia had been on my "to read" list for some time, so when I received the book as a Christmas gift I knew I would have to read it ASAP.  RA is the first novel by Kimberly McCreight, released in 2013.  It is about a single mother trying to put her daughter's life back together after her death.  The mom, who is a lawyer,  searches through her teen's emails, texts, etc. in an attempt to figure out the events that led up to her death. There were a lot of twists and turns throughout the book, so many that up until the very end I was STILL questioning what happened!  





3. The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand (3/5 ★)

The Last Time We Say Goodbye was another Christmas gift that I put on my list because of the teen characters.  (I LOVE a good teenage angst story).  The main character Lex's brother died prior to the story beginning, and throughout the book Lex struggles with dealing with his death because of the last text he sent.  The story-line was a bit predictable, but it was still an entertaining read.







4. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (5/5 ★)

I love reading autobiographies of people who I feel like I know, even though I've never met them- actors, actresses, authors, musicians, etc.  Its just bizarre to me that people can have such an impact on our daily lives, yet they don't even know our names.  Now maybe its a little ambitious to say that an actress in a movie impacts your life THAT much, but do you ever watch a movie while you're feeling 'blegh' and come out of it feeling completely different? Or do you ever read a book because you're bored or lonely or whatever and feel so much more motivated to do something about your life when you put it down? No? That's just me? Well then..

Anna Kendrick became a favorite of mine after Pitch Perfect (of course).  I saw she had released a book about her life, and based on her hilarious tweets, I knew it had to be humorous.  Anna Kendrick is just as funny IRL as she is on Pitch Perfect (and by IRL, I mean in her writing...I wish I knew her in real life!).  Anna writes about her life growing up as a loud-but-tiny child, and how she discovered acting as a passion.  This was one of those books that I came out of feeling motivated to follow my own dreams.  Thanks for the inspiration, Anna!




5. The Whistler by John Grisham (5/5 ★)

I have been a fan of John Grisham since I read his book The Runaway Jury in the 8th grade.  After finishing that book, I was quick to collect all the John Grisham novels I could find at garage sales, flea markets and book stores.  Now, whenever he releases a new title, I have it in my Amazon cart ready to purchase the day it comes out.

The Whistler  is about a lawyer investigating a corrupt judge who is involved with the construction of a casino by The Coast Mafia, despite being on Native American land. If you like John Grisham, you'll like this book.




6. My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry
(1/5 ★)

I had stumbled across this book somewhere, likely on Goodreads but I can't say for sure, just when I had run out of books in my pile to read, so I ordered it.

The author is English I believe, and the story takes place in Europe.  Told from two different points of view, it is interesting to get the varied perspectives on everything taking place.  Lily, one of the main characters, is a lawyer who marries quickly to an artist; Carla, the other character whose point of view we hear, is a fatherless girl who spends her childhood in the same flat as Lily and her husband Ed.  Long story short, Carla and her mother move away, but her life becomes entwined with Lily and Ed's as she enters adulthood. Honestly, the story-line was fairly predictable.

It took me a LONG time to get through this book.  As in months.  I read other books as I read this book because I struggled to get into it.  I keep telling myself that if I can't get into a book in the first 100 pages to just put it away and not waste my time, but unfortunately, I AM NOT A QUITTER and I finished it anyway.  


7. Took by Mary Downing Hahn (4/5 ★)

As I was finishing my Master's Degree, I wanted some easy reading that would provide me with a break from my studies, but wouldn't take over my free time that I should be spending focused on school.  I decided to take a short hiatus from adult books and dive into some children's literature.

My students had been raving  about Took after they all got it at the fall book fair, so I figured I would give it a shot.  Took is a "ghost" story about a family that moves into a ragged old house in a small town.  The two children in the story continue to hear horrible stories about the home they moved into, and a crazy witch lady.  Legend said that a girl had been "took" many years ago by this witch.  The kids don't believe the story....until the little girl goes missing.  I would definitely recommend this book to any child that loves scary stories, or as a read aloud in an upper elementary classroom in October!


8. Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skaypuch (5/5 ★)

My favorite time period in history to read about has always been the WWII era so when I saw this book at our school book fair I had to get it.  Continuing with the children's lit trend, Making Bombs for Hitler is a historical fiction book about a young,Ukranian girl who is kidnapped by the Germans and forced into slavery.  I think its a great book for kids as it tells a story that is different from the norm.  So often, children's books about WWII focus on the holocaust aspect from the perspective of Jewish children.  Opening kids up the impact Nazi Germany had on countries other than itself is just as important for them to see.





9. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (3/5 ★)

As was mentioned before, I love autobiographies, especially those written by people who are still alive! (haha) I probably wouldn't have gone and bought this book on my own, but a friend had just finished reading it so I borrowed it from her.

I was unable to relate to Mindy Kaling in the way I was with Lauren or Anna.  Her story was interesting, and you can definitely see her sense of humor in this book, but it wasn't as great as I had hoped it to be.













10. Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra (5/5 ★)

Y'all...this book seriously pulled at my heartstrings.  Etched in Sand is a memoir that tells the story of Regina Calcaterra and her siblings as they grew up in New York to an abusive mother.  I don't want to share too much, because I think this is a story that is better read in full than summarized.  I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend this read to anyone who works with children in any capacity, but especially those who work with underprivileged or troubled youth.  Make sure you have a tissue box nearby, you WILL cry.








11. Camino Island by John Grisham    (5/5 ★)

As stated before, I LOVE John Grisham. (Almost) all of his books are law-focused, and I've been obsessed with all aspects of crime and criminal justice since I was introduced to The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley back in elementary school. Camino Island is about a clan of (very smart, sneaky) bandits who steal priceless books from the Princeton Library.  A young co-ed with a lot of student debt is talked into (with the promise of money) befriending a man who may know where the stolen loot is.  LOVED it!












12. Once and For All by Sarah Dessen (3/5 ★)

I started reading Sarah Dessen's stories back in middle school.  They're all focused on teenage love and are typically very predictable.

Once and For All is about a the daughter of a wedding planner who isn't so sure about the whole "love" thing.

I enjoyed this story, but it wasn't one of my favorites.













13. The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood by Mark Kurzem (3/5 ★)

Mark Kurzem wrote this novel about his father's supposed past with Nazi troops.  I say supposed because although the book is sold as a non-fiction story, there are critics who say there is no way this story ever could have taken place for one reason or another.  Anyway, it is an interesting read whether its true or not.














14. Columbine by Dave Cullen (5/5 ★)

I've had a couple people who have seen me reading this say to me, "How can you read that being a teacher?" to which I always responded with, "How can I not?"  Columbine was written by Dave Cullen after very extensive research.  Cullen was a journalist on the scene right after the attack.  He spent ten years working and researching the event known as Columbine, as well as the impact on the community around the school. Despite being only 7 years old at the time, I remember hearing about Columbine after it happened.  I realized that I never really knew what had happened, which is what drew me to the book.  It is incredibly informative as to what actually happened, rather than the myths that spread after it, and contains real excerpts from the gunmen's journals, etc.






15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (3/5 ★)


I'd heard about The Handmaid's Tale being on Hulu, but didn't know what it was about until I read the book.  I borrowed it from a friend and began reading it at the beginning of summer.  Right before I headed north to MN, I downloaded the audio book on Audible since I had 24 hours of driving to do in the next week and very little reading time.  Anywho, this story is eerie.  I know its a fictional dystopian 'future,' but you can't miss the parallels to present day.  Honestly, I didn't love the book, but it was interesting, and I do want to read more of Margaret Atwood.




16. This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl (4/5 ★)

This book had been on my reading list for a long time, so when I saw it with a $2 price tag on it at Ollie's, I had to snag it.  TSWGO is a compilation of Esther Earl's journal and letters, post from her CaringBridge page, and letters and notes from her family and friends.  Esther Earl was 12 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and 16 when she passed away because of it.  This book takes you through her battle with cancer and the thoughts and feelings of the people around her.

The disclaimer here is that Esther had met John Green, the author of the well known The Fault In Our Stars, while she had cancer.  He says that TFIOS is not based on Esther or her life,  but there are a lot of parallels between the stories.  This book was interesting to me because though I have read a lot of fictional stories about characters battling childhood cancer, I've never read an actual account.  


17. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (3/5 ★)

This book had been in my "to read" pile for quite some time before I actually got around to reading it. Since I knew it had become a movie, and I had heard a lot of hype about people comparing it to Gone Girl (which I loved), I expected to be thoroughly engaged and in high suspense throughout the whole book. My expectations were not met.  It was a 'good enough' story, but the characters were so dull.  The story is about a semi-recently divorced woman who rides a train past a row of houses every day, twice a day.  One day, one of the women in one of the houses goes missing, and the train rider becomes wrapped up in the investigation.  There was virtually NO character development, the ending was kind of predictable, and there was not nearly as much suspense as I was hoping.  That being said, I am interested in seeing the movie to see if they play up the characters.



18. Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight (5/5 ★)

Y'all. This book. I think it might be my favorite book I've read all year. Or at least top 5. Written by the same author as Reconstructing Amelia, it houses the same suspense that McCreight is known for.  It took me a little longer to get into, but before I was halfway through, I was hooked.  The story is about a dead baby found in the creek of a small town, and the search to find who it belonged to. I love the connections between the characters and how the author had her reader constantly guessing and wondering. 





19. Closure by Randall Wood (5/5 ★)

As much as I prefer to have a physical copy of a book to read, I bought my kindle for the sole purpose of traveling with it.  I got it right before I left for two months in Central America, and bought the most simplistic one I could find.  If you're looking for an e-reader, I would highly recommend the Kindle 4.  It is an e-reader, not a tablet, which means the battery lasts FOREVER (one month under ideal reading conditions).  The screen is not backlit, so you don't have to worry about not being able to read it in the sun (as you can see from my photo).  I love it. Anyway, back to the book.

Since I like physical copies of books, I only download the free books for my kindle.  I thought that Closure was the next book in a series I had begun reading a few years back, but it turned out it was another FBI/crime-centered novel. The book was a free kindle download, and is the first of five novels in the series.  Closure is about a dying man and his brother-in-law who want to right the wrongs in the criminal justice system.  They are determined to draw national attention to the crippled and flawed American criminal justice system by killing the big names who contribute to these shortcomings. All the while, an FBI team is trying to get ahead of the men and catch the killer before he can kill again.  The story is written in a way that has you constantly rooting on the vigilantes, while also wanting the FBI to catch up with him.  The story wraps up at the end, but leaves you wanting more.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the series.


20. Lifestyle Blogging Basics by Laura Lynn (3.5/5 ★)

I came across this book while reading a blog post from a fellow blogger, and figured it was about time to start educating myself if I want to turn this project into something more.  It definitely gave me some great pointers, most of which I already knew just from browsing Pinterest. What I really liked about this book was it gave the "why" behind everything.  As in, why it's important to add certain widgets and features, which was really helpful.  I wish it gave a little more of the "how," but it is a guide, and not a manual to the blogging platform I use, so it wasn't as if my expectations were let down. I also wish it dove a little more into monetizing your blog. (Disclaimer: I feel really weird and uncomfortable writing this review. I don't read a lot of informative texts, so I don't really know how to talk about them...) If you're looking into starting a blog, this book would be really helpful. Since I've already started this blog, it's not as helpful.






21. Unsweetined by Jodie Sweetin (4/5 ★)

As previously mentioned, I love autobiographies. Especially when they're about people who aren't old, dead men.  Jodie's book came up on Amazon as one I may be interested in due to my previous searches, which of course, I was.  I had never known about her addictions to drugs and alcohol, and was shocked to see how young she was when they started.  As a lover of Full House, and now Fuller House, Jodie's story was really interesting to me.








22. We Were Liars by E. Lockhard (4/5 ★)

I realized that I had missed a few of my children's/young adult books from earlier in the year.  This story is a great suspense story for middle grades and I had originally found it because it was the Goodreads winner for best Young Adult Fiction for 2015.  It is about a troubled girl who belongs to a rich family, one who only speaks of the happy things, and never dwells on tragedy.  She spends her summers on an island with her family, including her cousins who are some of her closest friends. It has the heart tugging effect of a love story, while also entrapping you in the suspense of a mystery.







23. All American Girl by Meg Cabot (5/5 ★)

This was one of my favorite books when I was in (roughly) the fifth grade.  So much so that I've read it at least a dozen times since, and will forever keep my copy of it.  Meg Cabot is the author of The Princess Diaries series (which I haven't read).  All American Girl is about an awkward, artsy teen who saves the presidents life by taking down the man who attempted to shoot him. The story follows her as she ventures through the unwanted fame while establishing a relationship with a boy that turns out to be the president's son.






24. Wonder by R. J. Palacio (5/5 ★)


This was another book that I read during my "children's lit" phase.  If you're an elementary school teacher, you know this book.  If you're a parent, you should know this book.  Wonder is about a young boy with facial deformations who decides to begin to attend a public school.  It is the story of his struggle to fit in not only as a new kid in school, but as a kid whose appearance differs from his peers.






25. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (4/5 ★)

I declared to myself that I wasn't allowed to buy any more books and I therefore needed to get a library card.  I had forgotten that John Green's newest book was about to come out so that didn't last very long.  Along with John Grisham, John Green is one of my favorite authors, and one who I will always buy the book from the day of its release.  Turtles All the Way Down is about a girl battling OCD, all while trying to establish a relationship with an old friend...just after his billionaire dad went missing.  It is not my favorite John Green book (Looking for Alaska is), but I did enjoy it!



 26. The Martian by Andy Weir (5/5 ★)

The Martian was the first book that I listed to via Audible (Amazon's audiobook playform).  My friend Becca had told me the audiobook was really good after we had went to the movie when it came out a couple years ago.  When I found that you could get a 30 day free trial of Audible, a long with a free audiobook, I knew exactly which book I was going to choose.  At the time, I was driving between Alabama and Tennessee nearly every weekend so I finished the book in a month pretty easily.  Becca was right, the audiobook was great! (I'm also currently working on reading the book via iBooks- I really like the story!) If you're as much of a space fanatic as I am, you'll enjoy this as an audiobook, and a movie, and an actual book!



27. Adnan's Story  by Rabia Chaudry (4/5 ★)

I listened to this story as an audiobook on one of my many long drives (probably across the whole state of Illinois) after I had listened to the Serial podcast, which if you're into true crime you should totally listed to.  Written and read by the co-host of Undisclosed, (another awesome true crime podcast), Rabia Chaudry tells about the murder of Hae Min Lee followed by the craziness that was Adnan Syed's questionable conviction.  It covers a lot of the same content that Serial covered, but more in depth.  I liked that I already knew the story from Serial prior to listening to the book because it made it that much easier to follow and pick up on new information that either wasn't shared in Serial or that I just didn't catch the first time around.


28. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (4/5 ★)

My dad recommended this book to me told me I HAD to buy this book after he read it. I had a hard time getting into it, because I'm not a huge reader of nonfiction that doesn't really tell a story, but it was really informative.  In the last few years I've been a huge proponent of creating your own happiness and that you can literally just CHOOSE to be happy and it will make your life so much better.  The great thing about this book was that it totally confirmed all of that.  Through his own experiments and research, Shawn Achor discusses growth mindset and how intelligence, physical skills, and more can be improved solely by being happy and believing you can improve.  Achor shares that if a workplace encourages its employees to take breaks/vacations and provides opportunities for employees to joke and laugh throughout the day, productivity greatly increases.  I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone looking for personal growth, and especially if you are any sort of leader- whether you are the boss of a company, a teacher, or a parent.






29. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham (5/5 ★)

Three John Grisham books in a year makes for a great year!  Still law focused, Grisham tells a story about a group of law school students who find out they are getting seriously screwed by their law school and their student loan lenders. I love Grisham's books because I start reading and before I know it I'm halfway through and do not want to put it down!








30. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (4/5 ★)

After receiving this recommendation from a couple different people, I listened to this story via audiobook and had to restart it a couple of times because I couldn't get into it. When I was driving home from Minnesota last I decided to give it another shot, and I was hooked. The book has multiple story lines revolving around parents (mainly mothers) of kindergarten students and their kids. There were a lot of twists and turns that kept me guessing until the very end (though as the stories were all tidied up in the conclusion, I couldn't help but wonder how I didn't see the ending coming). I will definitely be watching series from HBO!





Already in my pile for the rest of this year and 2018 are:


1. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle
2. The Company of Demons by Michael Jordan
3. Willow by Julia Hoban
4. Not with the Band by Kelli Warner
5. Underground in Berlin by Marie Jalowicz Simon
6. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
7. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield


Have you read any of these? If so, do you recommend any of them to read first? (Or to not read at all!?) Do you have any book recommendations for me? If you answered yes to any of these questions, drop a comment below- I would love to add some more to my list!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

14 Companies That Will Send You Coupons



If you saw my Tips & Tricks for Beginning Couponers post, you know I love to get a good deal on things.  As I was perusing the posts on one of my couponing groups on facebook one day, I came across a lady who said she had emailed a bunch of companies and they had sent her coupons.  Not long after I came across a blog post that listed a bunch of companies that sent coupons. I thought to myself, "why have I not done this yet? Companies usually send way better coupons than you get in the Sunday paper inserts!"  I spent my nightly Netflix time being productive and I found that I was half right. Not all of the companies on the list sent me coupons, and some of the coupons were comparable to newspaper insert coupons. As I have continued to email companies, I decided to put together a comprehensive list of companies that will send you coupons if you reach out to them and also list the coupons they sent me.  (Note: if their website stated that they didn't send coupons, or if they had them directly on their website, I didn't send them a request).




Aveeno- (2) $1 off any Aveeno, RoC, Le Petit Marseillais, or Lubriderm product
Blistex- (3) 25 cents off any Blistex lip care product
Blue Bunny- (6) 55 cents off one Blue Bunny Ice Cream 46-48 oz (may contact every 6 mo. For coupons)
Chobani- (4) 50 cents off Chobani Greek Yogurt, (3) FREE Chobani drinks
Flipz-(1) 50 cents off any Flipz item
Frito Lay- (1) $1 off any Frito-Lay product, (1) 55 cents off any Frito- Lay product
Hostess- (1) FREE individual Hostess cake (They responded by email saying they didn’t send coupons but sent one anyway)
Jif- (2) 35 cents off any Jif product
King’sHawaiian- (2) $1 off any King’s Hawaiian bread product (They responded by email saying they didn’t send coupons but sent them anyway)
Malt O Meal – (2) 75 cents off any one Malt O Meal product
Nestle Toll House - (1) $1 off any one bag of Nestle Toll House morsels
Neutrogena- (1) $3 off any one Neutrogena product, (1) $1 off any Neutrogena product
Schick HydroSilk – (1) $14.29 off any one Schick Hydro Silk raxor or refill
Snack Factory - (3) $1 off One Snack Factory Item

Find Coupons on Webpage
Axe (sample)


Do Not Send Coupons by Request
7UP – per email
Angel Soft- per email
Aunt Jemima- per email
Bird’s Eye- per email
Burts Bees – per email
Chi-Chi’s – per email
Dole - per email
General Mills – per email
Halo Top – per email
Hormel – per email
Little Debbie - per email
Nabisco – per email
Post- per email
Propel- per email
Red Baron – per email
Revlon- per website
Simply Orange – per email
Sunbelt Bakery - per email
Thomas Breads – per email
Tropicana - per email

Do you know of any other companies that will send you coupons by request? If so, please let me know in the comments below! I plan to continue this mini project and follow up with another post in a couple of months!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Together Live 2017

I'm going to be real honest here, I had no idea what this was when I entered to win tickets.  All I knew was that Sophia Bush would be there and I love Sophia Bush so if she was going to be there then I wanted to be there too.

Thursday morning I got a comment back from one of my favorite blogs and insta accounts, The Nashville Guide, to send over my name and the name of my +1 so they could put us on the list for the night. Yes! Only six hours of subbing in a middle school classroom and a two hour drive up to Nashville stood between me being in the same room as my favorite actress.


Caitlin and I made it to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center just in time for the event to start. It began with an introduction by the founder of Together Live,  Jennifer Rudolph Walsh.  She introduced her purpose of putting these events together- women sharing their stories in hopes of inspiring others to do the same and working together to empower each other on our journeys to change the world. (Don't worry, men were invited - and celebrated - too!)


The first speakers were author and activist Glennon Doyle and all-time leading scorer in international soccer history Abby Wambach.  Glennon shared her story of her broken marriage and battle with addiction as Abby shared her story of turning to drugs and alcohol.  They shared a love story like only writers can.  Beginning at opposite ends of the stage with their eyes on each other, they spoke of how their lives changed when they met, moving closer together as each page of their story was told.


I love the story telling aspect of this event.  I think about how much I love reading and how I love hearing other peoples stories.  Part of why I started (continued?) this blog is because I love reading blogs.  Reading other people's stories has always been my greatest form of inspiration.

Following Glennon and Abby was Luvvie Ajayi and this girl pulled on my heart strings hard.  Of all the women speaking, I identified with her most.  Luvvie was born in Nigeria and moved to the states when she was a child.  She grew up wanting to be a doctor, and began college as a psychology/pre-med major.  After getting her first D in Chemistry, she ended up dropping the pre-med and graduated with a degree in psychology. From there, she worked in a marketing position. During all this time she had been keeping a blog, just for fun.  She knew she loved to write, but had never looked at it as a career path until her just-for-fun-blog won an award years after she was finished with college.  From there, she grew her blog and wrote a book, all the while taking as many risks and chances as she could.  She made it her goal to do the things that scared her.

Those of you who know me IRL probably just read that and said, "Gretchen, that is nothing like you. You grew up in Minnesota, which is about as far away from Africa as you can get," but hear me out.  Like Luvvie, school came really easy to me. I entered college as a business major, and after getting my first C in Macro-economics (go to class, kids), dropped it for an education major, thinking that was where my passion was.  Now, less than three years out of college, I'm quite certain that I don't wan't anything to do with that degree.  Like Luvvie, my blog that began as a hobby (well, as a way to keep my friends and family updated on my life in Costa Rica), now is something that I would love to turn into a full time "thing." I would love more than anything to just WRITE and do the things that I love.  Also, I'm pretty big on doing all things that scare me! 


Becca Stevens, founder of Nashville's Thistle Farms, was invited to the stage next. I had heard of Thistle Farms, but I didn't know what it was. She shared the origin story that resulted in the birth of Thistle Farms, an organization that's mission is "to heal, empower, and employ women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction" by "providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence, and a strong community of advocates and partners."  So here is the awesome thing about Thistle Farms (okay, one of many awesome things), it is SO EASY to support them! You can visit the cafe on Charlotte Pike for locally sourced breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea.  You can also buy a variety of Thistle Farms brand products such as bath and body washes and lotions, candles, room sprays, apparel, and other products straight from their website linked above.



After a brief intermission, Sophia Bush and Ruthie Lindsey took the stage.  Sophia informed us that though scheduled, Connie Britton was not going to make it tonight due to being stuck filming in LA (boo!) but she had sent a recorded message for us.


Y'all. The woman I came for. And not surprisingly she spoke to my soul.  I was and am a lover of One Tree Hill which is where my love of Sophia Bush came from.  After OTH, Sophia ventured into the show Chicago PD which I also watched (while she was still a part of it).  She recently dropped the show and Sophia spoke of how she didn't feel she had to explain why she dropped it until she was ready to, but that she shouldn't have to go do work every day dreading it (with the "f" word thrown in there somewhere) and that hit me hard.  Because when it came down to it that was what teaching was starting to become to me, and as I recently told my best friend- if you don't love what you do, its not worth doing. As much as we tell ourselves to keep our work lives and our personal lives separate, if we are miserable at work, it is going to leak over into all other aspects and areas of our being.


An unexpected but equally important guest came out next.  Equipped with a translator, Lupe Gonzala, a neighbor to Glennon and Abby, came to speak about the unfair treatment of farm worker women immigrants.  She spoke of the sexual assault that she and the other women faced daily in the fields, and how it impacted her family at home.  She and other women had decided to take a stand and thus the Fair Food Sisters was born.  The organization's goal is bring awareness to and fight sexual abuse and forced labor.



Another unexpected guest, Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town was invited on stage next.  She shared about her time in the music industry, and how easy it was for women to be pushed to the back.  Karen discussed the importance of making sure there was room for everyone at the table, and to cheer each other on.  She shared how Little Big Town constantly works together to make sure all voices are heard even when the outside forces in the industry may only focus on certain individuals. 


Inspired by the Me Too Movement, the show ended with the women gathered together sharing their own stories of "me too."  If you're unaware of what the Me Too Movement is, you can educate yourself here.  I'm not going to disclose their stories, because they are not mine to share, but the courage they showed as they shared was empowering. I encourage those of you who don't know what this movement is to take some time to look into it, because just because it doesn't happen to you, doesn't mean it doesn't happen, and just because it doesn't happen to you, doesn't mean it doesn't matter. And on that note, me too.



Can I just say how empowering it was to be in a room of women looking for the best for EVERYONE.  Y'all things got political for a second or two, but guess what- there was no name calling, no excluding people from the "other side." That was such a refreshing thing for me.  Had things turned nasty, it would have totally discredited everything these women were trying to instill in the crowd, but they didn't! I say this because I can't tell you how many people I've lost respect for after seeing them use terms like "snowflake" or "lib-tard," solely because the ONLY purpose of words like those are to hurt and insult, and anyone whose goal is to intentionally inflict hurt in anyway is not a person who deserves my respect.  (I don't know any of the bad slang terms directed towards the other side, or I would have included them there.  You know why I don't know any? Because I am friends with kind people.)

There was no better time in my life for me to discover Together Live.  Those who know me personally know that I'm stuck in a limbo of not knowing what my life's purpose is and what path I am suppose to be walking skipping down.  I want to LOVE doing what I do for work everyday.  Too often I hear people say that work is work and you don't have to love it because that's not what the purpose of a job is, but I disagree.

I had this quote written in my notes under Karen's name, and so I'm going to assume she said it.  The quote was, "I don't have to sound profound, I just have to say the truth."  This quote stuck with me because I sometimes I struggle with writing things, and I struggle with speaking about things and when you have a blog that is a rotten thing to struggle with.  In this day and age, and especially with social media, if you say one thing wrong people can absolutely tear you up about it.  But when it comes down to it, its not always how you say something, but its what you say.  I don't have to use elaborate metaphors to get my point across, I just have to speak from the heart and speak my truth.  I struggled with writing this post, because I felt like these women had such beautiful stories to share and were so eloquent with their words that I would be unable to do them justice with this measly, messy blog post.  If you get the chance, I would encourage going to see Together Live 2018 (the tour is over this year!) so you can see, and hear, for yourself what I mean. In the mean time, they are putting out a podcast that just started called Together Live Presents: Do it on Purpose which I am loving right now!


I'm going to end this post with another quote from Glennon that I love, "Stop asking for directions to places no one has ever been."  So often we ask our friends and family for help and advice, and while there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that, when it comes down to it, your path is YOUR path.  No one has walked it before, and so no one can tell you which turn to take and whether you need to pack a bikini or a parka.  Life is full of never before navigated waters, and the beauty is in pioneering your own adventure!

If you're looking for some inspirational reads, check out the books currently out by the ladies above:

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle

Love Heals by Becca Stevens

I'm Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi

Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle