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Author Archives: Gretchen

What’s in a Box?

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Who has heard of Influenster? What in the world is it all about? An acquaintance introduced me to the site after she shared reviews of some samples or test products she received to try and review. Interestingly, most of the products she tested and tried were full sized samples. Curious, I joined to see what the deal was.

Influenster is a social media site that collaborates with companies to have people like you and me try and test out their products in exchange for honest reviews about the products. It serves mainly as a database for anyone to search for reviews on almost anything and everything under the sun. You’re encouraged to link your social media accounts to build a presence on Influenster and increase chances of earning a VoxBox, or specially curated box of samples from various vendors to sample and review. Every product in the box has challenges or tasks that one must complete in order to earn badges for their profile or to gain more experience points tied to their account. In turn, this helps bolster your account’s credibility and increases your chances of earning another VoxBox in the future.

Trying out products for free in exchange for sharing candid opinions? Sounds like fun to me! I answered a few questions about one potential VoxBox (these come as surveys which vet which individuals will receive the VoxBoxes) and received an e-mail from Insfluenster saying I was chosen to receive the Daisy VoxBox to review.

The VoxBoxes ship via USPS and typically arrive within a week from the date you are selected. You need to select the option to ‘Check in’ your box once it’s received on your account. All of the items in the VoxBox pictured above were complimentary.

The Daisy VoxBox seems to focus on healthy pursuits, hence the SkinnyPop sample, coconut-based Live Clean Shampoo and Conditioner, Yes to Charcoal face mask, Nature’s Bounty Probiotic Gummies, sample of Always Pads, and coupons for Dannon’s Light and Fit Greek Yogurt. So far I’ve only tried out the gummies but the rest of the box seems pretty interesting!

Interested in joining up and offering your opinion? Check out their site at my link here.

The Floor Sounded Better than Sleeping Next to the Enemy

A short drabble I wrote recently while taking the train home to visit family. Is it purely fiction or is it all real? Maybe parts of it, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination.


“Did you just stay up and party about our win?” I asked as Carson walked up.

He scrunched his face and shook his head. “Unnnnnngghh…tell ya at Starbucks,” he muttered as he pointed to hotel lobby. He stifled a yawn as we dodged families and couples checking out, exiting through the sliding doors and walking behind the hotel shuttle to reach the street.

“You room with anyone from your section?” Carson asked.

I shook my head and explained that I worked out an arrangement with a friend from colorguard. Carson sighed before he muttered that I was lucky.

“Senior perk,” he grumbled, “why do I have two more years until I’m there?”

“Oh stop whining,” I replied with a roll of my eyes, “She didn’t have a roommate for this trip and I asked the right coordinator. We thought we’d have to find two more people, but turns out we didn’t have to.”

Carson rubbed his eyes, his glasses lifting slightly off his nose. “At least you got the person you wanted.”

I stopped short and turned my head. “You knew you could pick anyone to room with for this trip, right?”

He snorted as he crossed his arms, fingers digging into the soft flesh of his biceps. “No Yinee, I didn’t. I actually agreed to room with Taj and Bryce a few weeks ago – then we got stuck with Christophe!”

“Then you should have asked someone else so you didn’t get a random assignment!” I replied, shaking my head.

“Let me rewind a bit,” Carson corrected, “no one assigned him to our room – Bryce asked him, but I’m pretty sure it was out of pity for him. I mean, Bryce asked if Taj and I were cool with it, but what was I supposed to say? ‘Yeah, Christophe can’t room with us.’ I’d be a jerk then, right?”

I nodded as I pressed the Walk button, keeping my eyes on the sign.

“So, they wanted to throw a big party in their room after the tournament and you tried to sleep through it?” I guessed.

“Who’s in the roller coaster group again?” he asked.

My head snapped in his direction at the question.

“Walk sign is on!” the disembodied voice announced from across the street.

Carson stepped down from the sidewalk and began to cross at a brisk pace. I followed, turning my head to cough.

I should take one now, I thought as I reached the other side. I dug around in my purse for the bottle of Zycam, pressing the heel of my hand against the cap.

“Ew, you’re sick Old Lady?” Carson asked as he nudged the button for the opposite side. He inched away and hugged the pole, casting a wary glance in my direction.

I tapped out a single melt tablet in my other hand and tilted my head back as I dropped it into my mouth. My lips twisted into a grimace as the fake orange flavor met my tongue and started to dissolve.

“Not contagious,” I corrected him as I threw the bottle back into my bag. “This is Day 6 – I’m just congested now.”

“Uh huh, sure…” Carson said with a sharp nod. “Sorry, but who’s in the amusement park group today again? Is it just us?”

“No, you, me, and Wilson,” I replied. “I almost thought we’d have my friends from the saxes, but they were just being trolls on my post. Figures, I always thought one of them was full of –” I trailed off, holding back the word threatening to slip out.

Carson relaxed, dropping his arms to the side. He mumbled something about being happy it was just the three of us and I turned my attention back to the tablet in my mouth and trying to finish it up before we reached the coffee shop. Next time I’m checking the other flavors.

Once the sign changed, we stepped off the sidewalk, walking side by side in silence.

“This is disgusting,” I announced as the final nub of the tablet dissolved. “I mean, it works but why did they think orange was any better than cherry?” I shook my head and sucked my saliva, trying to get the orange taste to go away. “Hey, you didn’t tell me why you look dead.”

“Cause I slept on the floor,” he replied with a pointed look.

I frowned and stared at him in disbelief. He had to be kidding me – this guy managed to get conned out of a comfy bed after the final tournament? While I didn’t know his roommates very well, Bryce would always stick out in my mind as the guy who covered his case in stickers from In-N-Out and couldn’t get enough of their Animal Fries. Taj was smaller than Carson and incredibly sarcastic, but not rude. As for newbie Christophe, he rarely was spotted without a smile or joking smirk on his face.

“Seriously? All right, who do I need to smack for kicking you to the floor?” I demanded as I crossed my arms.

Carson held his hands up and shot me a surprised look. “Whoa, easy there Old Lady! I know it might not sound normal, but I actually asked for the floor!”

I scanned his face and Carson nodded several times.

“No really, I asked for the floor.”

“Then why are you complaining?” I asked. “Please tell me someone at least gave you a pillow and a blanket.”

“Oh yeah, no I got those,” Carson added. He shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced around the strip mall we were near. “Look, it was either that or share a bed with Christophe! I mean, you’ve seen the guy right? He’s a giant – he pretty much needs the whole bed!”

I snorted and dropped my arms to the side. “Carson, you’re exaggerating – the kid’s not that tall!”

“I say he is!” Carson shot back.

“Well, how did he take it?”

Carson shrugged his shoulders and began walking toward Starbucks. “Oh hard to tell. He seemed surprised but I told him he should just take the bed – no big deal. He let me have the other pillow and the top blanket. You know, it actually wasn’t that uncomfortable if that makes sense. Did you know Bryce snores pretty loudly?”

I bit my lip as I followed him across the parking lot, looking left then right for cars. “No, I didn’t and I probably wouldn’t have known that,” I replied as I zipped my jacket up. I reached out to grab the handle but Carson beat me to it, swinging the door open and standing to the side, making a mock bow.

“After you, Old Lady,” he said with a smug smile.

I rolled my eyes as I slipped through the door and joined the long line, standing on tiptoe to see the bakery counter. Carson walked up behind me and leaned to the side to see the drink menu ahead.

“What are you getting?”

“A bagel and a cup of water,” I said. “You?”

“I think…I’m gonna have that chocolate chip Frappuccino drink and something from the case,” he announced before straightening up.

***

“Can’t stand him!”

“Who?” I asked as I spread a thin layer of cream cheese on my second bagel half.

Carson’s eyes darted from the window to the line, checking to see who else was here that we knew. I followed his gaze and noted that there were mostly strangers, maybe a few of the popular kids from band tucked in the corner of the cafe. A large group of them from various sections stood up at that moment and walked past us to toss their trash. One of the guys raised a hand in my direction before following the group out the door, coffee cup in his left hand.

Carson watched them leave before turning back to me. He leaned in and lowered his voice, “Christophe.”

I raised a brow at him and he huffed as he leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.

“Am I missing something or did he empty his spit valve on your shoe when I wasn’t looking?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Just gets on my nerves. He acts like everyone’s his friend and he’s annoying. I swear he thinks life is one big laugh to him.”

I took this moment to take a big bite of my bagel, trying to chew quietly as I listened to Carson lay out his reasons for hating this kid. It seemed a little unfair to the poor guy but then again, it was like the old saying from grade school – you’re not gonna like everyone and everyone isn’t gonna like you.

Yeah, it was definitely good that it was just the three of us taking on the biggest, baddest coasters at Six Flags today…

Sipping Stars and Finding Soul

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Happy 2017 to my readers!

How many of you have heard music playing in coffee shops, pulled out your fancy smartphones, and used an app to determine the song playing? I’ve done it many times so I can hunt down the full song on YouTube or another platform for listening to the whole tune.

A quick stop into Starbucks this afternoon led me to hear the chorus for this gem, which resulted in a look up via SoundCloud to find the title for later.

A short snippet of piano hooks you in, later used as a foundation melody repeated in the background as more instruments build on it into the chorus. Instantly this small hook transported my mind to a smoky, seedy bar with neon lights flickering in the window with a handful of patrons – mostly locals. (Fitting as the first verse muses if the singer’s ex lover is out drinking and possibly free to hear her out one more time.)

The haunting vocals crooning this song of failed relationships and reminiscing about the good times belongs to fresh-faced LÉON, who hails from Stockholm, Sweden. In addition to this single, she has an EP titled Treasure out now and a full album on the way.

The combination of her delivery and instrumental music is refreshing for me in an era of electronica, fast-paced music, and heavy synthesizers. Something tells me that her star is going to grow brighter in the near future…

Now or Never?

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immortālis: Latin im (not) + mortal

Music, TV, and science have searched for the fountain of youth or the secrets to immortality in reality and fiction. Too often have we dreamed of ascending to a higher spirituality or embodiment where nothing or no one could touch us as we make our path in life and in society. But then reality crashes down and reminds us with the grim fact that we are flesh, blood, and bone – all worn away by time. I’ve heard people use the term “YOLO” or similar phrases such as “live life to the fullest” throughout my life but I question if we ever heed those suggestions until it’s too late.

Why is she waxing poetic about life and using Latin to introduce a post? (I promise there’s a reason – bear with me for a bit.)

For those who have been with me on this journey, you have noticed I’m no stranger to witnessing moments where life has thrown curveballs or moments when I’ve parted ways with close friends too soon. My dad always said it is best to live your life with little to no regrets, which has been a goal that has been anything but easy to attain. It is easier for me to declare that with every encounter I’ve experienced I’ve tried to learn something from it and grow.

My late high school friend and fellow musician showed me another side of her former hometown and popular culture, all while staying true to her roots.

My co-worker lent an ear, a warm smile, and an encouraging word to those in need, revealing a strength that was selfless and admirable, even when things were difficult on her end.

My dog who beat the odds stacked against her and inspired people from all over the US to support others like her. (Now with a fund in her name that supports injured dogs requiring various surgical procedures.)

Recently, my 86 year old gran on my mother’s side was told that her time was limited. She is living alone with her small dog, coping with age-related health issues in the same house my mom was raised in. A few months prior, life threw her a curveball in the form of leukemia.

How does one react when you hear news like that? There’s no magic guide to tell you what one should feel when the stubborn woman who speaks frankly is dealing with something of this caliber. Sure you can scream into the void that nothing is going right and hate that it’s all falling apart.

What good is that going to do?

One of my favorite teachers from high school told us to deconstruct a moment to it’s most basic form and focus on each motion as it happens. Live in the moment, in short. Most of us in his class scoffed that this was an easy task to achieve – cake really. But after 10 years, I realized how difficult it truly is to do, especially in a world that values multi-tasking and getting everything done at lightning speed.

Still, I want to understand the feeling of focusing on each motion as it happens. Continue to strive to live without regrets. Finally, value the time I have with everyone.

Time Flies by When You’re Telling a Story

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Last week marked the 5th anniversary of Your Smile is Priceless – who knew that a blog analyzing the blogger’s life in a society struggling to pull itself out of the recession combined with literature would grow from an audience of her classmates to beyond?

I wish to extend a huge thank you to all of my followers and readers for coming and staying on for the ride – it has been a pleasure sharing glimpses of my life, the small nuggets of success, and the occasional drabble with you.

In addition to work, I promised myself to make the most out of my time at San Diego Comic Con this summer. Previously in 2015, I spent many days camping out for hours to stake my place in Hall H for several panels from Lionsgate, BBC, and 20th Century Fox with good friends. Don’t get me wrong readers – my friends and I had some good times waiting in line but my dad commented that I missed many of the smaller panels or experiences taking place on the floor. This time, most of the panels I attended were smaller and I was fortunate to immerse myself in the floor activity and some of the outside offerings (Vote for Snoopy and Suicide Squad x Samsung Experience to name a few).

stan-lee-2Photo taken by Susan K.

Save for walking around the convention floor, I did get in a long line to draw a ticket for a limited autograph session for MARVEL legend and early founder Stan Lee. It was rumored that this was Mr. Lee’s final appearance at SDCC, due to age and stamina. Like me, many were clamoring to be one of a hundred fans who got a coveted wristband. My mom and I stepped up to the ticket drawing bags and were fortunate to draw winning tickets for the signing. No pictures with Stan or conversations were permitted, but you could try to slip in a selfie from the waiting area of the line.

stan-leePhoto taken by Susan K.

Everyone expected a huge group of security surrounding him when he was scheduled to start the signing but instead, he walked up from a backstage elevator by himself, smile on his face and waving at everyone in line. My mom snapped this picture of him smiling at me after he returned my signed print of Spider-man before I was ushered out of the signing area. A living legend and a truly memorable moment.

To all of my readers out there, I want to hear your priceless and memorable moments that you’ve had recently. Feel free to share down in the comments.

Define Happy

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Hey, where in the world has the author been? It’s almost been two months since we last saw her!

Instead of pleading the Fifth, how about I share with you some snapshots of my life while I was away from this wonderful blogging space:

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13040838_10153589706207963_1316372428640684390_oTaken by Chrissy Ives

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Yes, multiple visits to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood were made during the months of April and May with good friends. Contrary to my expression in the first picture, I did try Butterbeer and thought it was interesting, but I preferred the Gillywater. 🙂

Early May was Spring Dapper Day at the Disneyland Resort and there was no shortage of Dapper Disneybounders like myself. It’s a no brainer for me to channel my favorite Lucky Rabbit.

I guess you could say that the month of April and May were spent trying to reconnect with old friends and making new memories. Many of these people I haven’t seen in almost a year and now that many of us are working, getting married, or studying graduate or doctorate degrees, we hardly have time to hang out and just have fun without the worries. These three images are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of time spent with friends and family, but I like to think that in those months, I said yes to more fun times than ever.

All right gang, how about you? Any exciting, magical events take place while I was gone?

The Crisp Memory

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Late January 2011: It was one of my last few days in Italy for a January term class in Renaissance art. Oddly I was incredibly homesick for 90% of the trip, save for my days spent in Siena and Venice. Why odd? I had traveled overseas before in 2008 and never felt super homesick – then again, I did have good friends and plenty of laughs to keep my mind busy and free of anxiety. This trip was a bit of a rocky start – upon arriving in Florence in early January, my cell phone carrier had some trouble switching over to international and I received news that my roommate would not arrive until tomorrow, due to delays in her home state. Not to mention I was in a stark white room with a tiny shower that had the doors close at a point (Psycho vibes anyone?) and my converter from Sharper Image burned out, despite the fact that the store claimed it was Italy compatible.

Rocky start aside, the trip became more enjoyable overtime but upon arriving in Rome, I was ready to finish strong in my class and head home. My roommate and I walked past a local restaurant nearby the trolley in the heart of the city and noticed it was pretty busy. The food smelled good and it seemed popular, so we gave it a go one night. In addition to buying an authentic, freshly made pizza, I checked out a drink called ‘Gazzosa’ on the menu and showed the description to my roommate, who roughly translated the description of it as a sort of sparkling lemonade. I gave water a break and ordered it, curious to see how it tasted.

Lemony, crisp, and a smooth, yet bubbly finish, I took an instant liking to it. Pictures weren’t allowed in the restaurant so I tried to commit the label to memory, determined to try to find it Stateside. Boy was I disappointed when all I could find online was a soda company that made their own Gazzosa that looked more yellow than the light cream liquid I remembered. Needless to say, I concluded that I was better off remembering the memory and taste of the refreshing beverage.

Fast forward to today: I visited my folks one weekend and they raved about a fantastic Italian specialty market near our house. I wandered through it, impressed with the variety of authentic Italian meats, fresh pasta, and house sauces. I went down the drink aisle and lo and behold, there it was!

Tastes exactly how I remember it.