Regurgitated Frog

Regurgitated Frog

From O’Fallon to Jimmy Fallon

By now, you probably know that Jimmy Fallon picked Children of Blood and Bone for the Tonight Show’s Summer Reads book club. And how cool is it that his audience helped choose a book with strong, diverse characters, the first from crazy-talented twenty-something author Tomi Adeyemi?! My summer YA book club of teachers and librarians who live in the O’Fallon, MO area actually picked this book to read before Jimmy chose it for his show. That’s how on-trend we are! Check out Jimmy Fallon’s interview with Tomi Adeyemi here. She is #goals!

It was no easy feat to choose a #plotdrivenlife experience to go along with this book, but more on that in a sec. Check out my review, first:

What makes Children of Blood and Bone particularly on fleek is that Adeyemi created a FIERCE main female character with the envy of magical powers. Zelie Adebola first appears to be a hot-headed mess-up, someone whose hasty decisions get her in trouble on the regular. She lives in a fractured world without magic, and she’s old enough to vividly recall the night when her mother was brutally murdered for her magical ability to call on spirits, the same night all magic and magi disappeared forever.

But we all know magic didn’t really disappear forever (duh!), and Zelie is, of course, central to restoring magic to the land of Orisha. When she unknowingly helps Amari, the princess of Orisha, escape from her father, the king, it sets off a chain of events that lead Zelie, Amari, and Zelie’s brother, Tzain, across the kingdom, in search of three holy items and the mysterious island where they will perform the ritual to revive magic. Complicating matters, Amari’s father is the evil ruler who banished magic and ordered the deaths of the magi. He sends his son, Inan, in search of Amari and the holy artifacts with the directive to destroy anything and anyone that gets in his way. Inan’s loyalty to his father and country is tested, though, when Inan realizes he, himself, has magi blood and finds himself dangerously attracted to Zelie.

This book includes epic sea battles, steamy love scenes, fantastical beasts, and ratcheting suspense. It reminded me of a cross between some of the darker scenes in Diana Gabaldon’s, Outlander and the survival challenges in The Hunger Games, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s the first in a series, and it ends with a cliff-hanger.

Regurgitated Frog

As you can probably imagine, it takes extra imagination to plan a #plotdrivenlife experience based on a fantasy novel. For a while, I gave serious consideration to adding a white streak to my hair (the Orishan sign that someone has magical abilities), but I don’t think I could rock that as well as one of my favorite fashionistas, Stacy London. Stacy London co-hosted a long-ago canceled show called What Not to Wear, one of those guilty pleasure shows you sort of hate yourself for enjoying, but she has a fierceness that in some ways reminds me of Zelie. But, I digress.

Instead of dying my hair, I focused on magic. In the book, there are actually ten magi clans whose powers vary from control of natural elements to the ability to affect life and death. Zelie is a Reaper, a magi with the ability to summon the souls of the dead, just like her mother. If I had to choose from one of these ten powers for myself, I think I would be a Tamer with the ability to communicate with animals, but guess what!? There is actually a quiz you can take to determine which clan you belong to!

Since I don’t have any actual magical abilities, I decided Mike and I would go in search of a real magician. And as luck would have it–and this was kind of creepy/cool– the day that I searched for upcoming magic shows in the area, it just so happened that THE David Blaine was performing at the local Peabody Opera House that very night. I bought tickets, and off we went.

Now, I couldn’t take any pictures of the show, but trust me when I tell you that David Blaine is INSANE. The man encouraged an audience member to sew his mouth shut, and then he somehow revealed her very large engagement ring on his tongue once he was un-stitched. Another (giddy) audience member stuck a foot-long needle all the way through his bicep without producing ANY blood. He blew fire on a candelabra, held his breath underwater for thirteen minutes and regurgitated a LIVE FROG that I never saw him swallow. The whole time, he was cool as a cucumber. He is a total beast, and I could fall down a rabbit hole watching all the videos on his YouTube channel. Take my money, David Blaine!
David Blaine ate this.

This is another unique experience for me inspired by a dynamite book, and I loved the last-minuteness of taking in David Blaine’s show. If you read Children of Blood and Bone, what would you have chosen for a #plotdrivenlife adventure?

Happy reading,


Turtle Takeover

Turtle Takeover

Heroes in a Half-Shell!

Were you a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles junkie like me as a kid? I spent many an afternoon in front of the tv in the 1990s, totally absorbed with these “heroes in a half-shell” with “turtle power!” As I reflect on this completely ridiculous show (and now movie franchise) as an adult, I have to believe that the writers were high on drugs when they came up with the premise: after being infected by toxic sewer waste, a life-sized rat mentors four adolescent, juiced-up turtles, each named after a renaissance painter, as they fight crime. What the what? You can actually read about how the TMNT came to be here. Talk about accidental genius.

This week’s #plotdrivenlife experience also features a crazy concept about turtles. I’m writing about John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. I’ll explain the title’s meaning, but first, my review:

This book provides us a glimpse at a young lady who is often tortured by her OCD, a mental illness John Green himself admits to having. Green’s story features Aza whose social circle is limited to Daisy, a fierce friend who writes Star Wars fan fiction and dreams of a life out of poverty. Daisy convinces Aza that they should pursue the $100,000 prize for information that leads to the whereabouts of Russell Pickett, a corrupt billionaire business tycoon who vanished from a suburb of Indianapolis before police had the chance to arrest him. Aza knows Pickett’s son Davis since the two once attended the same camp for kids with a deceased parent, and when Aza sees Davis again during their “investigation, “she feels a connection to the boy who, despite having all the money in the world, is suffering, too.

John Green allows readers to intimately feel the pain of his characters in this book. Aza’s OCD rules her decisions and relationships, and Green is clear that there is no easy fix for her thought-spirals. Turtles All the Way Down also offers a realistic glimpse into the complexity of friendships. Daisy is no flat character; she makes cringe-worthy mistakes, and Aza’s inability to escape her own mind makes her unaware of Daisy’s struggles.

A stand-out title, and a raw look at mental illness that can benefit all of us. The audio-book was exceptional.

Turtle Takeover

The phrase “turtles all the way down” actually refers to the idea that a giant turtle is carrying Earth on her back, and she, in turn, stands on the backs of other turtles. As a result, Earth is supported by an infinite number of turtles, or turtles all the way down. I know; it’s about as nutty as liking a show about over-sized turtles wielding nun-chucks.

But really, the planets and solar system play an important role in this story. Davis Pickett, Aza’s love interest, is mesmerized by the cosmos. Despite the fact he lives in a sprawling estate, Davis admires the beauty of the stars, and he romances Aza with his knowledge of astronomy.

Not knowing much about astronomy myself, I turned to the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri (ASEM) for some guidance. Almost every Friday evening, regardless of the season, anyone can visit Broemmelsiek Park’s Astronomy Viewing Site where expert astronomers set up their telescopes for the public to enjoy, beginning at approximately 7 pm. It’s a completely free activity for all ages. There were several Girl Scouts on site when we visited!

Awkward photo taken by the hubs.
It was a beautiful night to star-gaze! Bet you can’t spot Venus.

Thanks to the delightful members of the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri, I was able to view Venus as well as Jupiter’s storm and several of her moons through their various telescopes. Through the massive telescope that is permanently on site (it literally has its own shed), I had the opportunity to view a globular cluster for the first time. Simply incredible!

That’s my friend, Jaime, looking through the permanent, on-site telescope.

One of the ASEM members also recommended I download a free app called SkyView Lite (for iOs only) which, when pointed at any part of the sky, identifies stars, planets and satellites and outlines constellations. I have fallen in LOVE with this app, and it’s become a habit for me to use it any time I’m sitting outside at night.

Leo, as seen through the SkyView Lite app.

If you like free, take note of the fact that ASEM has a partnership with the St. Charles City-County Library District that allows local residents to check out one of 19 telescopes! And if you’re a teacher, you can check out a Sunspotter solar telescope to use with your students. I had no idea!

I have to emphasize how cool it is that St. Louis-area people have access to a dedicated star-gazing spot AND that the ASEM folks dedicate their Friday nights to teach the locals about the cosmos! I’m very sure Davis Pickett would choose this as a date night activity with Aza.

Happy reading,


Stranger than Fiction

Stranger than Fiction

Rewind a Minute

Well, it’s been entirely too long since I last shared a new #plotdrivenlife adventure, but I hope that this update to a post I wrote in 2017 will absolutely blow your mind and prove to you that books change lives!

In August 2017, I wrote a post entitled Family Ties, where I explained how reading Kate Kae Myers’ book, Inherit Midnight, prompted me to send away a tube of spit to Ancestry DNA in the hopes I could uncover the truth about my family history. As I explained in the post, learning about my family’s heritage was especially important to me because my dad, Boyd, was given up for adoption immediately after his birth in 1952 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We knew next-t0-nothing about his biological family, believing only that his mother had been a teenager at the time of my dad’s birth.

Learning about my dad’s ancestry was exciting, but what has unfolded since has been a true miracle, and I am thrilled to share this story with you.

Stranger than Fiction

In December of 2017, my dad, ever the questioner, decided he would submit his DNA for testing through Ancestry. He wanted to confirm the company’s accuracy, so he didn’t list his full name, gender, etc. He wanted to see if I came up as a genetic match. Spoiler alert: I did. But almost immediately after dad received his results from Ancestry, he received a message through the website from a biological relative. That’s right, folks. Dad had struck DNA gold.

From left to right:
my “BG,” Jeff, Diane, my dad, Fiona;
together over dad’s birthday weekend.

This relative, Shelley, happens to live in his same province and is his distant cousin. She and my dad immediately developed a bond and began to converse almost daily. She was ecstatic that they’d connected through Ancestry, and she wanted to use her talent as a sleuth to help my dad connect to closer biological relatives, if possible. Shelley began digging through family photos and public records, sharing her findings and hypotheses with my dad and mom, and keeping us ALL on the edge of our seats.

While Shelley was investigating, my dad made the emotional decision to request his adoption record, hoping the paperwork would assist in the search. The wait for this information was agonizing for my dad, but in late February, he received it, and he was able to confirm that his mother, Helen Joyce, had delivered him at age 17.

Armed with new details, Shelley set off to contact a shared relative on her and my dad’s Ancestry family tree–a woman by the name of Laurie. Shelley asked Laurie if she knew someone by the name of Helen Joyce, and I wish that I could have seen the look on Laurie’s face when she read Shelley’s message. As fate would have it, Laurie’s mother’s name is Helen Joyce. . .

This story is even more amazing because Helen Joyce is 83 years young, living only a few hundred kilometers away from my parents. She has four children with her late husband, John: Diane, Laurie, Jeff and Fiona, all of whom knew nothing about an older half-brother born before their mother married. It would have been easy for the family to keep my dad at a distance, questioning his motives and fearing the impact this development would have on their mother. My “Bonus Granny,” or “BG” for short, is a spitfire, however, and the whole family has fully and completely embraced my dad and the rest of us with open arms.

Laurie and my dad, hugging it out
after meeting for the first time.

On the weekend of his 66th birthday, my dad and mom traveled to meet his mom and his siblings. The large, extended family celebrated him with a birthday party, eager to make up for lost time. This summer, Mike and I will travel back to British Columbia for a family (re)union where we’ll get to meet everyone for the first time. I’ve had the chance to FaceTime with my BG and my “new” aunts in recent weeks, and I cannot even express to you how full my heart is as a result of this entire experience. All of us are marveling at this miracle, connecting through Facebook and email, and excited for what the future holds for us.

So, I reiterate: books change lives. Had I not read Kate Kae Myers’ book, my BG might still be secretly wondering about the red-faced baby she gave up for adoption six decades ago, and my dad would never have known about the four siblings who bear a striking resemblance to him. Reader, your own life-changing #plotdrivenlife experience awaits you. What are you waiting for?

Happy Reading,


Moxie, #metoo & MacGyver

Moxie, #metoo & MacGyver

Podcast Driven Life

I have to admit that I’ve been living more of a Podcast Driven Life lately, and I’m cringing at how far behind I am on my Goodreads Challenge for the year. However, I think the lessons I’m learning from the podcasts I’m currently addicted to are worth sharing in an upcoming post. Stay tuned, and you’ll see why I’ve been ditching fiction!

The topic of this week’s book is incredibly timely, and I think it fills an important void in YA lit. It would be a stand-out partner read or book club pick that could lead to in-depth discussion and research.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

I love, love, love the message of this book– that a group of united young women who demand respect can affect all kinds of awesome change in this world. For this reason, Moxie totally kicked ass. The timing of this book is perfect, too, in the wake of the #metoo movement and so many famous men being accused of sexual harassment. Altogether, author Jennifer Mathieu delivers an inspiring story that examines issues of gender, race and sexuality.

This cover is

Life is as you’d expect in tiny East Rockport, Texas: Friday night football games draw the entire town and shut down all local restaurants. The football players live like kings, enjoying the newest and fanciest equipment while the girls’ soccer team is forced to fundraise for new uniforms. Most alarming, however, is that the principal of the school, Mr. Wilson, is a sexist jerk, and his son, a football star, goes unchecked when he sexually harasses his female classmates.

Enter Vivian “Viv” Carter, a shy do-gooder who is fed up with the inequality and inspired by her mom’s past as a member of the feminist group Riot Grrrrls. Viv gets the brilliant idea to start and distribute a “zine” called Moxie, a newsletter that calls on the girls at her high school to band together to take action against the sexist status quo. Viv wants to keep her identity as Moxie’s creator a secret; she’s both exhilarated and terrified of its impact. Before long, the Moxie movement takes on a life of its own, uniting her classmates and incensing Principal Wilson who threatens to expel anyone associated with the group. At the same time, Viv is in love for the first time with new boy Seth who may not fully understand her anger and frustration with the East Rockport High culture. It’s complicated. . .

As I mentioned in my original post, when I plan a #plotdrivenlife experience, I try to choose an activity that has positive consequences; I hope to learn a new skill or bond with a friend, etc. As I read Moxie, I connected with the idea of inspiring and empowering women by leaving secret messages in the bathroom, just as Viv does by planting copies of her Moxie zine in East Rockport High’s ladies’ rooms.

MacGyver and Me

Since the beginning of this school year, I’ve been rewarding teachers in my building with tech badges for incorporating technology into their instruction in new and innovative ways. I’ve been printing their badges (which I designed on the website Credly), on Avery labels I purchased from Amazon (This idea was inspired by an amazing educator named Josh Howard, by the way. I can’t take the credit! You can check out his site here.). Anyway, I decided to use those same Avery labels to print stickers with motivational messages for the young women at my school.

Some of my inspirational stickers!

Using the free Avery label template, I created six different types of stickers with sayings like, “I am enough,” “I am loved” and “I am unique.” I printed them in color and cut them out while watching whatever the hubs had on tv, and then had to enlist the help of my dad– my personal MacGyver–to figure out how to plant them in the girls’ bathrooms at my school without them getting wet or accidentally thrown away.

This guy–the original MacGyver– has nothing on my dad.

Dad came up with an inexpensive and simple suggestion: Ziploc bags taped to the bathroom mirrors. Genius! I grabbed my washi tape, some snack-sized Ziplocs and my stickers, and set out to anonymously (like Viv) decorate the bathrooms.

Just to be clear– I took this pic in the single stall teacher bathroom with the door locked. I didn’t want to be a creeper taking pics in a public bathroom!

The coolest part of this #plotdrivenlife experience was seeing my students wearing my stickers!

That’s a shirt-sleeve in case you couldn’t tell.

I saw students with stickers on their shirts and stuck to their phone cases. It made me so happy!

Could you do something simple to inspire someone today? I promise it will make you feel good, too.

Thanks for reading,


Countdown to My Death

Countdown to My Death

If the title of this week’s blog post made you think I’m dying, don’t worry. I’m completely healthy. But this week’s book certainly has me thinking about how I’ll use the rest of my time on Earth, especially after experiencing the death calculator!

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned While Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you know about the charming and business-savvy couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper. For any of you under-rock dwellers, Chip and Jo are residents of Waco, Texas where they transform dilapidated houses using Chip’s goofy humor and Joanna’s shiplap-loving, rustic style. They just revealed that the fifth season of their television show will be their last (at least for a while), so that they can focus on their family and other business ventures. And earlier this month, they revealed they are pregnant with their fifth child, and I’m pretty sure it rained kittens and unicorns on the internet as a result of this news! Chip and Jo are beloved, and their sweetness with each other, their genuine personalities and desire to lift up others make them just a delight to follow on tv and social media and through their magazine, Magnolia Journal.

Can you tell I’m a fan of theirs? Even as a fan, I have to be honest that I wasn’t very interested in reading Chip’s recently published book, Captial Gaines: Smart Things I Learned While Doing Stupid Stuff.

In his book, Chip explains how he fought to use this unusual picture for the cover art.

While I love watching Chip’s shenanigans on Fixer Upper, I believed that his goofy, rarely serious style wouldn’t translate to a book that I would enjoy or learn much from, so I passed it up. . . until I had a six hour road trip with my friend Jamie’s mom, Lynne, who I knew was a fellow Fixer Upper fan. Chip’s book was the ideal length for our trip, and it was one more book to help me achieve my 2017 Goodreads Challenge goal of 80 books. More on this goal in upcoming post.

Lynne and me ready to road-trip and listen to some Chip Gaines!

So, we listened to it, and this is what I thought:

Woah. Unexpectedly, the overall message of this little book left me fired up to do more good in the world. Chip narrates his autobiography and reveals how his unfailingly positive, seemingly no-fear attitude has served him well throughout his life. He details his start as an entrepreneur of three businesses and how his terrible money-management skills nearly cost him both his businesses and his new relationship with Joanna.

Chip has a refreshing take on life, and it’s clear to me after reading this book that he has a strong faith and truly finds joy in EVERY experience– even when he flipped a four-wheeler as a brand new dad and ended up in the hospital. Chip uses this book to encourage others to live in the moment just like he does and tells his story with his trademark sense of humor. The audiobook even includes testimonials from some of Chip’s employees who tell all about Chip’s quirky and unconventional leadership style. A feel-good read that exceeded my expectations. For more than just fans of Fixer Upper.

This book would serve as an excellent choice for a reluctant reader or a student with business interests. My husband is a high school marketing teacher, and I bought a copy for him to add to his classroom collection.

Countdown to My Death

This is the first nonfiction title I’ve reviewed for my blog, and it lent itself very well to a #plotdrivenlife experience. Chip actually encourages readers to take these particular inspired actions.

First of all, I checked out how much longer the death calculator suggests I might live, and THAT was an eerie experience, let me tell you! On this website, you input some basic information about yourself (height, weight, BMI, etc.) and the death calculator not only computes your age of death, but it picks the exact date you’re going to croak, pastes it on an image of a tombstone and then starts a countdown clock to your death! I was highly peeved that I am only calculated to live to age 82. My mom’s parents lived into their nineties, so I’ll feel robbed of at least eight years if the death calculator is accurate and I’m supposed to kick the bucket on April 10, 2066. Eek! So weird!

Suddenly, I’m stressed!

Chip’s suggestion that we check out the death calculator serves a reminder that our time here is temporary, and he wants us to make the best of it. His other suggestion, one that I completely embraced, is to write your own obituary. Again, this is definitely a morbid recommendation, but I love Chip’s mindset that we can create the lives we want through the power of positive thinking and hard work. By writing our own obits, we are telling the Powers That Be what we expect out of life. This action not only holds us accountable for the lives we want to live, but also it communicates to the big, wide universe that it better get behind our big, fat goals, darn it! So, here’s my obit with a snub to the death calendar:

KELLY OLIVA (December 20, 1982 to June 6, 2083)

Kelly Oliva passed away peacefully at her beach home in Key West, Florida this past week, surrounded by a brood of loving family, friends and pets. Born in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, Kelly moved to Missouri to attend Lindenwood University on a field hockey scholarship. She met her husband, Mike, during her first year as an English teacher, and the couple celebrated 60 years of marriage and shared many wonderful adventures together before Mike passed away at 99 years old.

Kelly was an acclaimed writer and speaker who traveled the world, often by RV with Mike and their pets, educating people of all ages about the joy of reading and encouraging them to lead purposeful, fulfilling lives by stepping outside of their comfort zones. Kelly was a passionate advocate for pet adoption, using her wealth and notoriety to benefit no-kill animal shelters across North America. As a result, she was recognized by Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, for her goodwill. She was also interviewed by Oprah Winfrey who became her mentor and friend.

Kelly loved to perform random acts of kindness in the places she visited, sometimes paying the cost of all gifts on layaway at Walmart before Christmas, stocking a school library in need with new books, or offering to cover the adoption fee for all animals at a local shelter. Kelly inspired others to follow her example, and her non-profit “Kindness Looks Good on You” will continue her work after her passing.      

Ever proud of her Canadian heritage, Kelly will be buried in her hometown of Kelowna, BC. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to Kindness Looks Good on You or your local no-kill animal shelter.

If you’re laughing hysterically at my old-age picture, you’re welcome. You, too, can age yourself with AgingBooth, a free iOs app. If you’re interested in motivating yourself by writing your own obituary or you’re a teacher who wants his/her students to write their own obituaries, you might want to consider using a free newspaper generator like this one which adds some authenticity to the experience.

Happy reading!