photographing, cooking, laughing through life


Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All th LightOne of my friends started a book challenge last year that she invited me to join.  The challenge asks readers to complete books based on a list of topics. For example, one book might need to have a number in the title, one could be a book that you’ve read multiple times, etc. Well, a category in the challenge was to read a Pulitzer Prize Winner and I chose the 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The novel centers around the lives of a cast of characters who are living during World War II. It is the story of Marie-Laure, a young, blind girl living with her father in France who must flee their home in Paris to the city of Saint-Maulo and her reclusive great-uncle’s home as the war closes in. It is the story of Werner, an orphaned German boy with an appetite for knowledge who must leave the only family he knows when he is called to fight for his country. It is the story of the search for a rare and cursed diamond that promises eternal life to the person who holds it.

Doerr tells this story through many different perspectives in various flashbacks. The story begins as the city of Saint-Maulo is being attacked and then transports back to when the war was just starting. We learn about the lives of many interwoven characters and circumstances and watch as those characters eventually are connected through the atrocities of war.

I found this book to be very moving. The vivid details the author uses really bring the story to life. I have always been interested in reading about World War II and found that this gave me new perspectives into what people on different sides of the conflict faced. This is a book that I felt like I NEEDED to talk to someone about after reading. Luckily, I know some people who had read it – and I looked on some of the message boards on goodreads and found an outlet that way as well. It is a novel that I know will stick with me for awhile.

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr: 4.5/5 stars

Leap List book 1/200



What’s for Dinner -Ground Turkey, Sweet Potato Skillet

I love, love, love sweet potatoes and am always looking for new recipes that incorporate sweet potatoes.  I’m also trying to eat a more healthy diet and stumbled on this recipe on Pinterest.  The original recipe comes from the Primavera Kitchen although I’ve made some minor changes as I’ve made it a couple of times.

The ingredients you will need:

  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lbs extra-lean ground turkey
  • 1 tsp clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup onions, diced
  • ½ cup yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 ½ cup sweet potato, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheeseIMG_7515


In a skillet (I used my Pampered Chef Rock Crock) heat oil over medium high heat.  Once heated, add the ground turkey and garlic and heat until cooked through (about 10 minutes)


Next, add in your onions and yellow peppers and cook until onions brown. Last time I made this I didn’t have an onion, so I just put in double yellow pepper.


Next, add in the salt/pepper and sweet potatoes.


Cover your skillet and stir periodically.  Add in more oil or water (I find water works best) if needed and cook until sweet potatoes are cooked through. For me this takes about 10 minutes.


Once the sweet potatoes are cooked through, cover with the cheese and put the skillet in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melted (this takes about a minute)


Remove from the oven and enjoy! This makes approximately 4 servings.


I will get to enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week for lunches – and I think it’s almost better the second day!

The United States of YA

I love to read…always have, always will. As a high school teacher, I often find myself drawn to young adult books – books that I can read and then suggest to my students. I try to mix some YA in among the fiction and non-fiction that I “should” be reading…and I mean, I’m still a young adult, right?!

While I was scrolling through Pinterest one time, I found a link to a list called “The United States of YA” – this is a list of 50 YA books (one per state) that take place in that state – and I decided to take on the challenge. Here’s the photo of the United States of YA:

And while the photo is great, I also wanted to make a list that I could put in my planner and cross off as I finished each book. Below is the list of books – with stars next to the ones I’ve read (I can’t tell you how ticked I am that “The Wizard of Oz” is the Kansas book…I mean, really?!)

Alabama – The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Alaska – Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Arizona – Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Arkansas – Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

California – Bloodlines by Richelle Meade

Colorado – A Beautiful Dark by Joscelyn Davies

Connecticut – My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Delaware – The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher

Florida – The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Georgia – Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hawaii – Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury

Idaho – Deadline by Chris Crutcher

* Illinois – Divergent by Veronica Roth

* Indiana – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Iowa – Ashfall by Mike Mullin

* Kansas – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Kentucky – The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker

Louisiana – Arise by Tara Hudson

* Maine – Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Maryland – Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

Massachusetts – Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Michigan – Wake by Lisa McMann

Minnesota – Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Missouri – Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

Mississippi – Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Montana – The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Nebraska – Revived by Cat Patrick

Nevada – Crank by Ellen Hopkins

New Hampshire – Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay

New Jersey – White Cat by Holly Black

New Mexico – fated by Alyson Noel

New York – The Diviners by Libba Bray

* North Carolina –The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

North Dakota – The Beet Fields by Gary Paulsen

* Ohio – I am Number 4 by Pittacus Lore

Oklahoma – Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp

* Oregon – If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Pennsylvania – Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Rhode Island – devilish by Maureen Johnson

South Carolina – Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia

South Dakota – Go Big or Go Home by Will Hobbs

Tennessee – Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Texas – Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey

Utah – Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Vermont – JIP: His Story by Katherine Paterson

* Virginia – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

* Washington – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

West Virginia – Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

* Wisconsin – Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Wyoming – Unearthly by Cynthia Hand


I’m only 1/5 of the way done so far with 10 of them read, but I’m excited to take on the challenge. I’ve started “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” but I’m also reading “All the Light We Cannot See” which is WONDERFUL! I did find a list of a Literary Map of America that I’ll share in a future post that I’m also working through.

Happy Reading!

What goes in…

My school district (USD 253) has started a wellness program for staff members.  Part of that program includes the chance for employees to enroll in different wellness classes offered through the district. At the beginning of February I started a class called Wellness Every Day.

Part of the class involves using a web-based program to keep track of daily activity and nutrition.  What a wake-up call this has been as I’ve been tracking both my food and my daily activity.

The online program we are using is a USDA website called SuperTracker ( The site is free for anyone to use, you simply have to create a profile and give some information about yourself – how much weight you want to lose, how much physical activity you want to do, etc.

So far, this has been such a motivating tool for me.  It makes me much more cognizant of what I am eating on a daily basis (there is SO MUCH sodium in packaged foods), makes me really think about what activities get me moving (also my Fitbit flex helps with that) and keeps me drinking more water. I’ve seen lower numbers both times I’ve weighed since starting the program, which is a step in the right direction to being happier with my body.

Part of what I love about the tool is that it allows you to build recipes into the tracker.  Instead of trying to estimate how many noodles I ate and how much meat was in the spaghetti, I can actually put in my recipe and also list how many servings the recipe is and it breaks it down for you – it’s awesome!

I know that I will continue to use the site long after the class ends because it has been so helpful so far! Coming up soon, I’ll share some awesome recipes I’ve made that have really been terrific and have been healthy too!




113 Days

That’s how many days are left until my mom and I go on the trip of a lifetime. That’s when we leave for a 16 day tour of the British Isles. That’s the day when I visit places I’ve always dreamed of visiting. That’s still FOREVER away!

One of my Leap List items is to visit at least 5 new countries, and I will get four of them accomplished on this trip: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I’ve been reading, researching, planning since we booked the trip and I can hardly contain my excitement.

Our tour includes:

 DAY 1 – Overnight flight to Great Britain.

DAY 2 – ENGLAND . . Arrival at London Airport – Oxford – Coventry.
Upon arrival, clear passport control and collect your luggage. During the motor coach transfer to your hotel in Coventry, make a brief stop in Oxford where Henry II established the first university of Britain in 1167. After hotel check-in, join your fellow travelers for a “Welcome to Great Britain/Get acquainted” dinner.

DAY 3 – ENGLAND . . Stow-on-the-Wold – Stratford-Upon-Avon – Coventry.
Views of the unspoiled countryside known as the Cotswolds clearly confirm you have arrived in England. Gentle hillsides, peaceful meadows and charming villages with old stone buildings characterize this region. The first stop today is Stow-on-the- Wold, offering antique shops and a chance to get a souvenir photo with your hands in the village’s authentic stocks. Then it’s on to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where half-timbered houses and thatched-roof cottages create a truly English setting. Tour the town, which includes a picture stop in front of Anne Hathaway’s cottage and a visit to the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Enjoy some free time in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

DAY 4 – ENGLAND . . York – Darlington.
Depart for a picturesque drive north via the Nottingham area. Around lunch time, arrive in the historic city of York. Spend the afternoon exploring the sights that most interest you. There are many choices available, from the York Castle Museum with its extensive collection of arms and armor, to the Jorvik Viking Center where a reconstructed Viking City from the year 948 is housed. Be sure to visit York Minster Cathedral, the largest Gothic church in England. In the late afternoon, transfer through North Yorkshire to Darlington for hotel check-in and dinner.

DAY 5 – ENGLAND . . Hadrian’s Wall & SCOTLAND . . Jedburgh – Edinburgh.
A morning drive takes you to Hadrian’s Wall, a fascinating Roman monument nearly 2,000 years old. During this stop, visit one section of the 70-plus mile structure. Continue over the border into Scotland and stop in Jedburgh where you will be treated to English tea with cakes and finger sandwiches. Following tea, use your free time in Jedburgh to visit the Mary Queen of Scots house, Jedburgh Abbey, or do some shopping at the Woollen Mill. A late afternoon check-in at your Edinburgh hotel provides time to freshen up and relax.

DAY 6 – SCOTLAND . . Edinburgh.
Start the day with a guided tour of Edinburgh. After the tour, a good place to spend your free time is along the Royal Mile, the Old Town of Edinburgh. As you walk past the classic old houses, you might wish to stop at one of the unique attractions such as the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle, Writer’s Museum, Gladstone’s Land (the oldest surviving house in Edinburgh), Museum of Childhood, or the high-tech Our Dynamic Earth museum. Edinburgh offers many options for tonight’s independent dinner.

DAY 7 – SCOTLAND . . Gretna Green & ENGLAND . . Grasmere – Lake Windermere – Cheshire County.
Travel southward to the border town of Gretna Green for a visit to the Old Blacksmith’s Shop. Gretna Green was widely known for secret weddings performed by the town blacksmith for 19th-century English couples who would cross the border to be married under the liberal terms of the Scottish laws. Following your visit to Gretna Green, travel back into England and on to Grasmere. Enjoy an independent lunch in this lakeside village, followed by a ferry ride on Lake Windermere. Your hotel and dinner await you in Cheshire County.

DAY 8 – WALES . . Snowdonia National Park – Caernarfon – Ferry from Holyhead & IRELAND . . Dublin.
This day is devoted to the sweeping landscape of Northern Wales. After a morning stop in Betws-y-Coed, continue through the thick pine forest into Snowdonia National Park, a mountainous region with rough but beautiful terrain. At Caernarfon, view one of the castles built by Prince Edward I. A quick lunch will allow time to climb the castle’s tower (£7.00 admission fee). After the motor coach crosses the Menai Bridge onto the Isle of Anglesey, it is a must to stop and take a picture of the town with the longest name, which we abbreviate here as Llanfair P.G. Have a leisurely dinner while you ferry from Wales to the Republic of Ireland or dine at a pub upon your arrival in Dublin.

DAY 9 – IRELAND . . Dublin.
The capital city of the Republic of Ireland offers much to keep you busy and entertained. A local guide joins you this morning to provide insight into the city’s history and to point out the popular landmarks including Dublin Castle, Trinity College, and the Guinness Brewery. Also included is entrance into St.Patrick’s Cathedral. Following the city tour, the afternoon is free for individual pursuits. A popular attraction is the Book of Kells at Trinity College Library (€10.00 admission fee), an ornately decorated and meticulously written edition of the Gospels from 800 AD.

DAY 10 – IRELAND . . Dublin – Kildare – Irish Countryside – Kerry County.
The area west of Dublin has become famous as the center of the Irish horse breeding and training industry. After touring the Kildare National Stud Farm, visit the Japanese Gardens of Tully House. As you continue toward western Ireland, relax and enjoy the scenic land of meadows, glens and crystal rivers. Your independent lunch stop will be in one of the friendly country villages along the way, where bakeries will offer you tea sandwiches; or small, family-owned pubs will serve up hearty Irish dishes. Then it’s on to your Kerry County hotel, hosting you for dinner this evening and a two-night stay.

DAY 11 – IRELAND . . Killarney – Kerry County.
Kerry County provides a wonderful spot to take a relaxing break from touring. The entire day is at leisure to enjoy Killarney and the stunning surroundings. The city is best seen on foot by following the Tourist Trail signs that lead you to some of the popular landmarks in town. A fun way to get a feel for the outskirts of the city is to hire a jaunting car, a horse-drawn buggy that seats up to four with a driver who doubles as your guide (€15 to €45 depending on the distance). For the adventurous, there are tours by horseback and boat through Killarney National Park. The tour manager will also offer an optional excursion to the Ring of Kerry. Kerry County offers everything from excellent restaurants to local pubs and friendly cafes for your dinner choices.

DAY 12 – IRELAND . . Blarney Castle – Waterford.
One of the highlights of the tour will be a visit to Blarney Castle. You’ll see the thickly constructed (18 feet thick) 17th-century fortification, and have time to walk the impressive grounds. You may also choose to stretch upside-down to kiss the Blarney Stone in the hopes of gaining the gift of eloquent speech. Eat lunch at one of the charming restaurants in the village of Blarney.

DAY 13 – IRELAND . . Waterford – Ferry from Rosslare & WALES . . Pembroke – Cardiff.
An early morning departure is necessary to reach the ferry in Rosslare. As you depart the Republic of Ireland and approach Pembroke in Wales, have lunch on board the ferry. Leaving the ferry, view the varied scenery along the coastal road between Pembrokeshire National Park and the Wye Valley. By mid-afternoon arrive in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Take a stroll through the 56-acre Bute Park, or enjoy a cup of tea.Your tour manager will offer an optional Cardiff Castle excursion. Continue to your hotel near Cardiff for check-in and dinner.

DAY 14 – ENGLAND . . Bath – Stonehenge – London.
Crossing the mouth of the River Severn, return to England for a tour of Bath, the elegant spa town where the Romans harnessed the natural hot springs 2,000 years ago. An included visit to the Roman Baths Museum reveals the advanced engineering used in the baths which was developed by the Romans. Then, it is on to mysterious Stonehenge. Dating back to about 1500 B.C., one can only speculate how the stones reached the site and how they were moved into place — some weighing 45 tons. Upon arrival in London, check in and enjoy a relaxing dinner at the hotel.

DAY 15 – ENGLAND . . London.
Today begins with a guided bus tour of London, including popular sights such as the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben, Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, the Royal Parks, and Buckingham Palace, where you may be able to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony (performed on select dates posted one month in advance, subject to special events and weather conditions). Following the city tour, the afternoon is open for you to pursue your own interests. For transportation, use the red doubledecker buses or the Tube; both are easy to use and are an experience in themselves. Shoppers will delight in the selection at Harrods and at other stores in Knightsbridge or on fashionable Regent Street. For more cultural endeavors, view the unrivaled collection of paintings at the National Gallery.

DAY 16 – Daytime flight back to the U.S.A.
Transfer to the London Heathrow airport for the return flight home.

These next 113 days are filled with school, photo sessions, extra duty, life in general, but I have a feeling that they will drag on and on as I await this amazing trip.

My Leap List

So, a day I’ve been looking forward to for four years…Leap Day is today! For a lot of people Leap Day is that annoying blip that happens ever four years, but for me, that blip is the chance to celebrate another ACTUAL birthday! I had a fantastic day, spending time at school and then getting together with friends in the evening.  As I was thinking about the next four years until my next big (and it’s a big one) birthday, I thought about a few things I’d like to accomplish before the next “Leap.” So, for better or worse – and so that it’s out there in the world, here is my Leap List:

Visit at least 5 new countries

Visit the Pacific Northwest

Present at a National Conference

Read 200 books

Learn a new language

Exhibit my photography

Run a 5K (the whole thing)

Be happy with my body

So, there’s the list.  I plan on taking you on the journey with me through this blog – posting pics of the places I visit, sharing nutritious foods I try, reviewing the books I read, complaining about the running and exercise, asking for advice…Four years to go, I’m ready to enjoy the ride!

Photo a Day Challenge – Days 54-60

Day 54 – U is for…Upside Down

As you can probably tell, I rely on my pets for many of my photos – they are such good models! Today’s photo comes to you courtesy of Hank.  He was rolling around on the blanket and decided to stop while he was partially upside down.



Day 55 – V is for…Volleyball

I was completely stumped for what to do for today’s picture.  I had thought about doing “victory” for our basketball teams (we played at Seaman) but it was not a good night for us. Then, I thought about doing something with the number 5 (the Roman numeral is V) but again, I couldn’t find anything that grabbed my attention.  Then I thought – hello…you are a volleyball coach! So, today’s photo became a shot of a volleyball.



Day 56 – W is for…Whiskers

I could have done several different W-words for today’s picture.  Atticus likes to WAKE me up with his WHISKERS while he WATCHES me sleep. Some days he also likes to stick his WET nose on me if I’m not getting up as quickly as he would like.



Day 57 – X is for…Xyron

Okay…X was HARD.  Had I been at school today, I would have gone into the band room and taken a picture of the xylophone, but I took kids to Wichita State for the regional journalism contest.  I have been loving my EC Life Planner and bought this fun sticker maker at Hobby Lobby (they have them at Wal-Mart now too).  Not only does the name start with an X, but the sticker maker is also in the shape of an X.



Day 58 – Y is for…Yearbook

I knew as soon as I saw today was “Y” that I was going to incorporate my yearbook staff.  When I told them I wanted to get a picture of them, one of my students suggested that they stand in the shape of a Y – I LOVE when students think outside of the box! So creative!



Day 59 – Z is for….Zzzzzzzz

Today was my “sort of” birthday (I’m a Leap Day baby, so no actual birthday for me), but it was also a day that it decided to snow.  Instead of doing anything exciting today, it was a lazy day at home.  Hank snuggled up close and snoozed the afternoon away while I watched Netflix movies and drank hot tea – all in all a good day.



Day 60 – no more letters…the start of a new month “You Today”

As usual, the month started out with a picture of me today. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, if I need to get a lot of photos worked or if I have lesson planning and grading to do, I am so much more productive if I go to Starbucks and work there – where I won’t be distracted. Today’s photo…