Y is for Yard Art

Y is for Yard Art




Too much!

Naked Barbie Beach, Turin, GA

I love yard art! However, I must give caution: a little bit goes a long way.  Perhaps I should amend my statement to say I love tasteful yard art, but then, I also love some non-traditional, funky forms of yard art. After all, I do call myself a bohemian southern belle. Bohemian; not tacky.  Too much is tacky and you won’t find the Naked Barbie Beach in my yard, but you will find it down the road in Turin, GA!

Some people are happy to let flora be their sole yard art. Some may allow a finely placed bench, statue, or fountain. Beautiful formal gardens or lush green lawns are nice. Many folks spend hours of work and/or big bucks to have a beautiful yard. I can also appreciate a pretty English or French flower garden, even though they are deceptive. They look like someone just threw a few seeds out the window years ago and voila, every year there are profuse flowers. Looks can be deceiving – those pretty gardens in the home magazines take planning, digging, weeding, cultivating, money, and backbreaking work – definitely not my cup of tea.

My preference leans toward something a little more casual. I like flowers, but only perennials I can put in the ground and forget. I love the old fashioned Rose of Sharon, quince, forsythia, daylilies, thrift, evening primrose, rosemary, thyme, and climbing roses, even though  I can’t get them to grow like my granny and mother-in-love did. I have a few, and I spruce them up with store-bought and my own creations of yard art.

My bottle tree is a work in in progress. Nestled between real trees in a corner of the backyard near the treehouse,  I am slowly accumulating blue bottles to fill its branches. Any bottle tree aficionado will tell you the very best bottle trees have only cobalt blue bottles; certainly no ubiquitous brown beer bottles or green wine bottles. I love the legend of the bottle tree –  that evil spirits are attracted to the pretty color, fly up into the bottle, and then can be trapped inside.

One of my favorite little yard art arrangements is a stone given to us some of our son Jay’s friends. It was in place at the friend’s wedding, where Jay was to have been the best man. When Jay died just a week or so before that wedding, they commissioned the stone and had it there in his stead, then gave it to us as a special remembrance. One really neat thing is that when they took a picture with it at the wedding, an unexplainable bright orb appears on the picture. Surely Jay was there in spirit.

I have also have the required St. Frances of Assisi statue, along with a birdbath, sundial, and armillary.  I tried my hand recently at glass sculpture, and I like the way it turned out. I also love fairy gardens and have one outdoor one in progress, as well as several indoor ones in containers. My “Oz” yard art needs some clean-up from the winter and spring storms.

It is often said that what constitutes art is in the eye of the beholder. That is especially true when we are talking about yard art! What kinds of yard art do you like? Share your ideas in a comment. Art, or not? 


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X is for X Rays

X is for X-ray



This post was originally published on the blog Readers Unbound, December 16, 2015. I want to mention an appreciation for the former Christina Kaylor’s editing on this piece.   Set in the early days of medical x-ray research, the novel Orphan #8, by Kim van Alkemade, was fascinating. I was fortunate to me Kim several months after reading her novel. 

Orphans – we are captivated by their stories. From Huck Finn to Oliver Twist to Jane Eyre to Anne Shirley, their stories endure. Even children, perhaps from fearing the unthinkable loss of parents, find orphan stories fascinating. I’m thinking of Madeline, The Box Car Children, The Whipping Boy, and Mary Lennox in her secret garden. In Kim van Alkemade’s debut novel, Orphan #8, we see the darker side of a child’s helplessness acted out by the adult orphan. Van Alkemade introduces us to Rachel at age four, who with her older brother Sam becomes an orphan when her father runs away after fatally stabbing their mother. Van Alkemade delves into family dynamics and the sordid treatment of orphans during the early 20th century in this powerful and convincing novel.

Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Manhattan

Orphan #8 is based on real events that took place in the 1920s. It is compelling for several reasons. My heart wrenched as Rachel is plunged into the world of The New York City Jewish Orphanage. She is separated from her brother and isolated until it can be determined she has no contagious disease. She is then placed in an institutional ward filled with young children in cribs with no books or toys and very little interaction with the attending nurses. Her emotional abandonment is only alleviated when Rachel is chosen as a subject in an early medical experiment, where she is identified only as orphan #8, and leading to another gripping aspect of the story.

Photo credit: New York Academy of Medicine

As an historical novelist, I found it most interesting to read about real events that were covered up for years, only coming to light in obscure medical journals and through the experiences of van Alkemade’s character Rachel. The author includes references and an appendix of true stories related to the orphanage, giving her work authentic substance. I was appalled at the lack of ethics in early medical research, especially on children who had no recourse when they were selected as study subjects.  The fictional Dr. Mildred Solomon arrives on the scene to conduct a study of early x-ray treatments for tonsillitis. Rachel is understandably drawn to the doctor with whom she gets to spend time in the private treatment room.  She is praised for her cooperation and basks in the doctor’s attention. When the individual x-ray sessions come to an end, Rachel is devastated that she no longer gets to spend time with her special friend. Once again, she is abandoned. Even worse, the treatments cause permanent baldness, plaguing Rachel at every turn in her life. Medical ethics continue to play a pivotal role as the story unfolds, even into Rachel’s adulthood.

Photo credit: New York Academy of Medicine

As a teenager, Rachel is pulled between her desire for social acceptance from both the popular girls and boys and her dawning awareness that she’s different, that she possesses “unnatural tendencies.” Ostracized because of her baldness, Rachel is taken under the wing of a slightly older female student, Naomi, for protection and friendship. The friendship that develops between them is life-altering. Another relationship, between Rachel and Amelia, progresses in an opposite fashion. Amelia is the darling of the school and has a head of lush, long locks in an astonishing golden red hue. Amelia, though, is not a friend. She is the ringleader of the girls who mercilessly taunt and shame Rachel.

Although Rachel is provided a wig, she never cares for it until she arrives at that age where the girls and boys begin noticing each other. Each year the home holds a Purim dance, the highlight of the social calendar. Rachel is coiffed and made-up and presented as a reasonably attractive young lady. Ironically, this is both her fortune and misfortune. She is admired by many boys, but catches the attention of one in particular, Marc, who is the dreaded Amelia’s flame. At one point in the evening Rachel excuses herself to go to the restroom, and Marc follows. Alone in the hall, he forces her against the wall and shoves his knee between her legs. Leaning into her face, he uses the nickname Rachel had been given in deference to her bald head as he accosts her.

“I heard your head’s not the only place you’re bald, isn’t that right, Egg? Aren’t you bald everywhere?”

A chaperone interrupts just in time, and Rachel is allowed to recover in the infirmary. Circumstances give her the opportunity to remain in the infirmary an extended period of time and assist the nurse. This is where she discovers her interest in medicine. Although she now lives separately from the dorms and social arena, Rachel’s relationship with Naomi blossoms. Having a revulsion to boys since the incident with Marc, and with Naomi’s willing instruction, Rachel acknowledges her sexual tendencies and seems relieved to know that she can find love and satisfaction. The acceptance of this discovery without self-guilt allows Rachel to experience loving relationships throughout her life in spite of the devastating losses she experienced in early childhood.

In an ironic twist, Rachel ends up nursing in the Manhattan Old Hebrews’ Home, where she encounters the doctor who performed the medical experimentation on her at the orphanage. Dr. Solomon is dying and in great pain. Considering that Rachel has been diagnosed with radiation-induced cancer, I understood her bitterness and desire for revenge. Now that the tables are turned, she holds the power over Dr. Solomon. She wants an admission of the horrors that took place in the orphanage and an apology and acknowledgement of herself as a person and not just a subject known as orphan #8.  Rachel contemplates withholding medications to induce more suffering for Dr. Solomon, and even considers ending the doctor’s life in a final act of revenge. Implications abound in this story. What is just? What is ethical? What is fair? Does the end result justify the means? The back and forth timing of the novel, between Rachel’s past and current adult life, helps us see the effect of her early experiences concurrently with their result.

This captivating novel causes me to wonder what I would do in the same circumstances. Does anyone really know how they would respond faced with an opportunity to confront a tormentor who has caused lasting damage to their health and well-being? At one point near the end of the novel, as Rachel faces the inevitable consequence of Dr. Solomon’s actions, she welcomes the oblivion of sleep and thinks, “I wonder if this was what dying would feel like.” Who among us has not had that same thought?

Orphan #8 is compelling. Although I wanted to know more, the ending leaves room for the imagination to write its own conclusion. And write it we must, for have we not all suffered hurt, rejection, or loss at the hands of others whether from insults thrown in childish name-calling, insensitive adults, unscrupulous professionals, our own family members, or by our culture’s intolerance at large?  Can writing be used as a tool to help us resolve notions of hurt and the desire for revenge? We can revel vicariously through characters like Rachel, indulging a fantasy for acts we would never consider actually committing in real life.

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W is for Writing

W is for Writing

As a writer… I’ve been a life-long writer, and I’m still at it. I have published material on infant education, preschool ministry, elementary education, and teacher education. My  first novel, Madam May, based on the life of my paternal grandmother. was published June 1, 2015. She was quite a character! Read more about her on the Books page. My second book, This Teacher Talks, was  published April 2017. It’s nothing like my first book – this one is non-fiction based on my dissertation research.

I also write poetry and essays. You can find them here: GeorgiaJanet’s Writing

Writing has been a constant companion and my varied life experiences provide different perspectives that are reflected in my writing. In high school I was on the school newspaper staff. Our paper was the Rebelation and I had varying responsibilities including editor at one time. For more about my high school years, view this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37OE_T_Vdl8&feature=channel&list=UL.     Joseph E. Brown High School

As a high school student correspondent to the Atlanta Journal newspaper I had two published articles. As it turned out, I would later find other connections to Atlanta newspapers. More on that below…

Atlanta Newspapers and Georgia Janet AJC

 When I was about eight years old there was a “fun page” in the Atlanta papers on Saturdays, which was a combined edition of the Constitution and the Journal. There was a maze I tried to work and could not do it. I got my brother-in-law, an adult, to try it and he said it couldn’t be worked. I wrote a letter to the cartoonist, Eric, (actually Lou Erikson, but he signed his cartoons and art as ‘Eric’) who was the political cartoonist at the paper at that time. A few days later I received a letter addressed to me. Inside was the same sheet on which I had written my letter. Mr. Erickson had drawn an illustration all around my writing showing a skeleton in a desert. (The original maze was called desert crossing and had a desert motif.) The skeleton was holding a sign that said, “Sorry Janet, No Desert Crossing!” I still have that letter to this day.

In high school, I was on the newspaper staff two years. At that time the Atlanta newspapers had what was called a “Teen Board” made up of high school journalists. We toured the newspaper offices at their old location on Marietta Street. I had the honor of meeting the renowned newspaperman Ralph McGill. I also submitted two articles that were published: one on the history and myths of Joseph E. Brown High School (my school), and the other a feature article about shoe fashions. A photographer came out to the school and took pictures of shoes (with feet in them!) This article ran on the front page of the Saturday feature section. For some reason, the shoes that I called “loafers” in my writing were edited by someone at the paper to be “moccasins.” I still don’t understand that – nobody called them moccasins! I have the shoe article but have been unable to find the article about the school.

There have been a few other newspaper connections in my life – my daddy was written up a couple of times. Once was for successfully rescuing a person from a burning car and another  time for an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a person from a burning car.

My Granny, the infamous Madam May, was broken in on, beaten up, and robbed, and that was in the paper. She had some other very interesting events chronicled in the paper in the early 1900s, but that is part of her story, Madam May! My life has been peppered with random connections to the Atlanta newspapers, some that are especially convoluted.

 Convoluted Connection

There is an intricate story involving history, genealogy, and my connection to Atlanta newspapers. My gggg grandfather Evan Howell (1781-1868), founder of Duluth, Georgia, married Mary Elliott, and they had a son named Clark Howell (1811-1882). Mary died and Evan remarried. Clark became half brother to my ggg grandfather, Hampton Wade Howell (1821-1892), who had a different mother (Harriett Hines Owens.) Then Clark Howell had a son named Evan Park Howell (1839-1905). Evan Park Howell (more on him below) bought controlling interest in the Atlanta Constitution in 1876. He, along with his assistant editor Henry Grady, hired Joel Chandler Harris, who had fled Savannah with his family due to a malaria epidemic. Evan Park Howell died in 1905, and his son Clark Howell (1863-1936) took over. He remained owner of the Atlanta Constitution until his death in 1936. So, the last Howell owner of the Constitution’s great grandfather and my own gggg grandfather are one and the same! To further confuse the matter, I also had a gg grandfather (the son of Hampton Wade Howell) who was named Clark F. Howell after his half-uncle.

Now the story gets even more convoluted. I am actually ALSO related to Joel Chandler Harris, and he was closely tied to the Atlanta papers. Evan Park Howell was instrumental in bringing him to Atlanta. Joel Chandler Harris and I are 5th cousins 5 times removed.  Harris’s gggg grandfather, Robert Chandler (1659-1710) is one and the same as my 9thgreat grandfather,  Robert Chandler, who had two sons, Joseph and Joel. My descendency is from Joseph, while the well- known J.C. Harris’ is from Joel. This has nothing to do with the Howell line, yet Harris and Howell ended up as colleagues and friends. Howell was from my mother’s maternal line of Park + Howell + Smith + Lord. The Chandler connection is from my mother’s paternal line of Lord + Chandler.

Even more serendipitous, Evan P. Howell lived in West End, Joel Chandler Harris lived in West End, and I lived in West End. Harris’ former home, the Wren’s Nest, still stands. It is a museum and home of the Joel Chandler Harris Association. While in elementary school, I participated in May Day dance festivals on the outdoor stage in the back yard of the Wren’s nest. We lived in West End until I was in second grade. Even after moving out to Venetian, we continued to go to West End often. Joseph E. Brown High School was in West End, and my church, West End Baptist, just a block or so from the school, was next door to the Wren’s Nest!!! There’ll be more to come about West End in other stories. Nowadays, West End is called THE West End, but us original West Enders will always know it as just ‘West End.’

Another connection is that a large portion of research for my novel Madam May was through the Atlanta newspaper archives. Her arrest record and murder trial were documented there and the picture on the cover is right off the front page!

Writing truly does run in the family!

These three videos are my granddaughters reading their work and showing the dioramas they made and photographed for illustrations. The original PowerPoint and literary work won local, state, and international  media awards for their age groups.

There’s A Monster In My Closet  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlDi0k6OhB4

BigFoot Wendy  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv3ywT00Z3g

Olivia the Frog  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLXNhmCxmGI

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V is for Vietnam Veterans

V is for Vietnam Veterans 

 For many of my generation, Vietnam was our first experience with war. We baby boomers had idyllic childhoods, free from the threat of losing our fathers and brothers in combat. We did have the vague threat of the cold war and nuclear annihilation, but it seemed abstract and far away. Now, suddenly it seemed, war was on television in our living rooms, hippies were protesting, young men were talking about leaving the US for Canada, and some even burned draft registrations.

I did not fully understand, except that I knew my brother joined the Air Force, not too long after his high school graduation in 1964, in order to avoid being drafted into the Army. The draft was in full force, and if you were not in college, and sometimes even if you were, depending on what your number was there was good chance that if you were a healthy young man unencumbered by a family you would end up in the Army, and thus in the Vietnam War. I could not comprehend the terror this struck in my mother’s heart. I knew I would miss my brother, but it was still so far away and unreal. I did not see why Americans were going across the world to fight a war when we had not been attacked.

In high school, I was a little bit of a rebel. Never got into any real trouble, but loved the thought of it!  I really wanted to be a hippie but was little too young to make it official. One day in English class I expressed an opinion that we should not be fighting a war in Vietnam. The haughty, conservative, uptight teacher poo-pooed my statement and said “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I may not have known a lot about why we were there, but I knew my brother was there, his life was in danger, and my Mama and Daddy were wrecks. I responded. “I beg your pardon, but my brother is there at this very moment. I believe that qualifies me to have an opinion.” I don’t remember the teacher’s response, but I believe there was applause ion that classroom.

Some of my feelings may have been tainted for another reason. My boyfriend at the time was a couple of years older than me and about to graduate. He did not have formal college plans at that time. We would often dreamily talk of running away to Canada. I even picked out a lake near Winnipeg, Manitoba where we would live. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. Somehow, he managed to get accepted into the reserves, and was not drafted. Some others were not so fortunate, including boys from my high school who never came home.

The Lord protected my brother and brought him home from Vietnam. Many Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home outside of their families. They were ignored, jeered at, spat upon, and sometimes attacked by the strong antiwar movement people who blamed them for carrying out what they felt was their civic duty. Many returned injured, addicted to drugs, or with mental illness. The Veteran’s Administration at that time was not equipped to deal with the massive influx of returnees and the problems that would plague them throughout their lives. Progress has been made, but there is still room for improvement.   

My brother completed his military obligation of four years in the Air Force, but war had taken its toll. He would have health problems the remainder of his life and die at age 62 from complications of Agent Orange induced diabetes.

I honor all Vietnam Veterans. So many young men snatched from their homes and sent to hellish jungles, some never to return, and some who returned to a life never again the same.


Official Vietnam Veterans of America website: https://vva.org/






A video honoring our personal family veterans:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYNyOYCAp1I&index=1&list=FLdl9CjF0-B21BEHyj-zmqgQ

Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA official music video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2Hpo39FivM

Good Morning Vietnam preview starring Robin Williams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_AsEwp_D5w


The Rolling Stones: Paint It Black: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InRDF_0lfHk&list=PL0054CAD1367AFC37

Barry McGuire: The Eve of Destruction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntLsElbW9Xo

The Animals: We Gotta Get Out of this Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJVpihgwE18

SSGT Barry Sadler: Ballad of the Green Berets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX4Flhw0HSA

Bob Dylan: How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWwgrjjIMXA

Joan Baez: Where have all the Flowers Gone?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw3M5kN78VE

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U is for Understanding

U is for Understanding 

I had a difficult time coming up with a topic for the letter U. Useful? Ukelele? Ubiquitous? Udder? Uterus? Urinary? Ugly? Ulcer? Ultimate? Uvula? Undulate? Umbilicus? Umbrella? Umpire? Unique? Unity? Such strange or silly-sounding words. For some reason, I settled on the word understanding. I don’t really understand why. So I started batting it around:

I understand. I don’t understand. What is it you don’t understand? Why can’t you (or I) understand? You just don’t understand. We need to come to an understanding. We have an understanding. Help me understand. It’s not easy to understand. Please understand! What part of no do you not understand?



Then there is the opposite: mis-understand. Beware the misunderstanding. Don’t misunderstand me! You just misunderstood.  It was a misunderstanding.



I understand if you don’t think much of this. I understand, I really do.

As always, a few tunes for you.

The Animals: Please don’t let me be Misunderstood

Heart: Try to Understand


Shawn Mendes: Understand

Smokie Norful: I Understand

Christina Aguilera: Understand

George Michael: Understand

Evanescence: Understanding



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T is for Tomorrow

T is for Tomorrow 

Tomorrow is an ambiguous concept. Holding both promise and loss. There are plenty of cheery, bright sayings about tomorrow:


Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you’re only a day away. Now that I’ve given you that earworm, let’s move on. Tomorrow is the big day! I’ll see you tomorrow! I’ll think about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day! Things will be better tomorrow. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.



On the other side, the dark side, tomorrow can be foreboding. Sometimes we know something difficult is ahead. We worry and dread for what will happen tomorrow. Yet none of us truly knows what lies ahead, and it’s probably just as well. Would you want to see into tomorrow? Just one day at a time? How would that change your life?

None of us are promised tomorrow. We cannot know what the next minute or hour brings our way, much less tomorrow. One Sunday evening in March of 2000, when I was still teaching public school, I prepared to go bed early to be well-rested for the next day at school when we would be testing. I went downstairs and told my Mama goodnight. She was comfy in her recliner, a book on her lap, her bed turned down, and watching The Three Tenors on PBS. Neither of us it would be our last goodnight.  The next morning, she still sat just as I’d left her. The bed unslept. The TV still on. The book still on her lap. Her blue eyes looking straight ahead, unmoving.


In May of 2009, in the late sunlight on a beautiful Friday evening, I was outside picking flowers with my granddaughters. They were staying overnight and we had plans to do some fun things the following Saturday.  When we came inside, my husband said “Your phone rang.” I looked at the missed calls and there was a call just a few minutes before from my middle son Jay’s fiancé, Katy. I called back and a voice that was not Katy’s answered her phone. There was horrific wailing in the background.

“Katy?” It was not Katy, but a friend of hers. I immediately said,

“What’s wrong?”

The young woman said, “Has no one called you?”

“No, just Katy. What’s wrong?”

I was about to hear the words no parent is ever prepared for. The poor girl was stuck.

“Well,”  she said, “There’s been an accident.”

“An accident? What happened?”

“There was an accident, and Jay didn’t make it.”

No, none of us is promised tomorrow. Not the 80 year old with dementia, not the 39 year old just diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, not the 6 month old sleeping in the crib who will never wake up, and not a perfectly healthy 28 year old with his wedding just weeks away and his whole life ahead of him. If I learned anything from losing Jay, it was this, especially. Tomorrow may never come.


Annie:  Tomorrow Tomorrow!

The Winans:  Tomorrow

The Shirelles: Will you still love me Tomoorow?

Fleetwood Mac:  Don’t Stop (Thinkin’ About Tomorrow)

Jackson 5: Maybe Tomorrow

Dolly Parton: Tomorrow is Forever

Garth Brooks: If Tomorrow Never Comes


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S is for Southern

      S is for Southern    

There are just about as many opinions about the South as there are Southerners, and that’s a lot. What is the South? What does it mean to be Southern? Do you have about a hundred years to hear me out?

First, let’s officially define the geographical South of the United States. If one uses the qualifier of the states who seceded the Union to become the Confederacy, then we are talking about South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama  Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, in that order. Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Arkansas are usually considered to part of the South, although they neglected to officially secede from the Union. Others believe only the northern half of Florida, the southern half of Virginia, and the eastern part of Texas should be considered part of the South.

However you slice it, many folks believe the South can’t be defined geographically. It’s a state of mind, they say. If that is true, then what sort of state of mind is considered southern?


There are plenty of iconic Southerness – identifiers.  Y’all, sweet tea, a mess of greens, a hissy fit, down yonder, and grits are a just a few. There are contradictory extremes like ladies in pearls using cloth napkins to girls in jeans driving pickup trucks, or gentlemen in seersucker suits with string ties to men in overalls with baseball caps. Yet, somehow, they are both Southern.

Polite manners are often considered Southern, yet I know plenty of ill-mannered Southerners. I also know well-mannered people throughout the world. The same can be said for family, or community, or church; all three often revered as being central to Southerness. But are these things not central worldwide?

The idyllic “old south” of belles and balls and plantations and parties was a myth. Oh sure, bits and pieces of it existed here and there, and may still in some fantasy movie-land.  Slave auctions, lynchings, snobbery, and male chauvinism also existed, and still do, mostly in places outside of the South, although there is plenty here to go around.


I am proud to be Southern. I will defend my Southerness. I love grits. I care about family, tradition, and manners. I can cook cornbread, whip up a casserole, and make sweet tea.  I am also educated (5 college degrees), accomplished, outspoken, and NOT racist. I am a feminist and a Southern Belle.  If this is what it means to be southern, then many folks who live outside the geographical south are just as Southern as I.  I say this to show that defining what it means to be Southern may no longer be possible. Even so, I am happy to fall back on a common adage: I am blessed to be American by birth and Southern by the grace of God.

If you don’t understand or appreciate this, there’s only one more thing I can add…

Please share your thoughts about

the South in a comment below. 

Visit my other pages about the South

Southern Sights and Sayings


Georgia Music and Video


Strong (Southern) Women

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R is for Reading

R is for Reading 

To be a good writer, one must be a reader. There won’t be much writing for this post, because I am reading! These are a few favorites from my Pinterest Books and Reading Board. Check this and other boards out at GeorgiaJanet on Pinterest.  Ladies, please go all the way to the bottom – there is some eye candy just for you! Please share your favorite reading thoughts in a comment.










































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Q is for Quality

Q is for Quality…

… the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.

This may be a little too academic for some of you, and if it’s not your cup of tea, move on, but first. let me tell you one thing:


In this post, you are getting the final chapter in my latest book, This Teacher Talks. The Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools is offered as a way to improve the quality of schools and education. Here is the final chapter in its entirety.  Graphics have been added.

And so it ended. Twelve years in public school. Years of joys and sorrows, ups and downs, and events that in no way could have been foreseen. I grew in many ways. I grew in my understanding of teaching. I grew in my understanding of how school cultures worked. I grew in my appreciation of beloved colleagues. I also grew more intolerant of those who would stand in the way of quality teaching, those who would compromise, and those who would let politics dictate their decisions. I grew in my convictions. I grew more certain that only quality knowledge, quality relationships, and a collective quality of moral imperative could transform a school and guide it towards making a real and positive difference in the lives of not only its students, but its faculty and staff as well. I not only became convinced of this, but I also was convinced that the lack of these criteria could create an all-encompassing anguish for students, faculty, and staff. This was the result of my dissertation study – that teachers could be change agents given certain circumstances. Those circumstances, quality knowledge, quality relationships, and a quality of moral imperativeness formed my model for school improvement known as the concept of Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools.

Although the narrative in Part Two shows that focus on the individual is important when attempting to bring about change in a school, it is that individual’s relationships with others that are critical for a change process to actually occur. There are systems and webs of relationships in all institutions, and schools are no exception. Each school is a system, and operates within larger systems of county and state districts. This fractalization, or forms created from pattern repetitions on different scales, continues as state boards of education operate within the nation and the nation within the global education setting. This is beautifully illustrated when Wheatly (1999) relates the butterfly effect of meteorology: that even a flap of a butterfly wing in Tokyo can affect a tornado in Texas.

Through research and personal experience, I came to the conclusion that change can and should take place among faculty and staff in schools where the climate among adults is less than desirable. It is unquestionable that students are affected when this is the case. In my research, I leaned heavily on the work of Michael Fullan for drawing my conclusions. He and others have written for decades on the subject of change in schools. (Fullan, 2003). He distilled his work into lessons for change in schools in his book, Changes Forces with a Vengeance (2003). He described eight lessons that should be applied when expecting change in schools. It was on lesson seven that I focused.

“We must mobilize three social attractors: moral purpose, quality relationships, and quality knowledge.”

              Pairing Fullan’s lesson seven with Darling-Hammond’s (1997) declaration that successful implementation of innovations cannot occur in the absence of positive teacher support, I was able to code and analyze my research to develop my Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools. The three concepts of moral purpose, quality relationships, and quality knowledge cover a vast amount of content. Each deserves its own exploration. Fullan addresses moral purpose in his own words, stating:

It is larger, more collective, where individuals are motivated to make their own day-to-day contribution, while at the same time seeing themselves connected to others, not just locally, but beyond. It is, in a word, “Moral purpose writ large” which as it turns out is both a goal in its own right, and equally important, a vital means to reach new horizons (p. 10).

His explanation of quality relationships is no less full of meaning:

We also know that quality relationships, once they do develop, inspire great loyalty. Studies of courageous actions in war indicate that it is not so much moral purpose that lies behind putting your life on the line (although that can be part of it), but the more tangible presence of loyalty to your buddies. Quality relationships, in other words, are even more important than moral purpose, which is another way of expressing the power of context (p. 35).

            Finally, quality knowledge is by no means the least important of the three. It invigorates the other two. Fullan states:

The third set of social attractors is quality ideas: knowledge building, knowledge sharing, and constantly converting information into purposeful knowledge use. Content does matter, since there is no point in having moral purpose and great relationships without them being fueled by great ideas (p. 35).

            After being immersed in the data and context of this narrative,  I became convinced these concepts hold the key for bringing about change in schools. Quality moral purpose and quality relationships are the two capstones that must be built on a solid foundation of quality knowledge. The figure on the next page presents a visual image of this concept.

The Collective Quality Concept for Change in Schools

           While I found that some teachers might influence a few other individual classroom
teachers to change, a much more collective, intensive, and inclusive atmosphere of change must be present to effect large scale changes in an entire school. Thus, it requires a moral purpose, dedication, and concentrated effort of a majority of the faculty, not just a few leaders, outstanding though they may be. The second capstone of quality relationships was a significant factor in terms of quantity and intensity of data. The extremes of both positive and negative relationships are revealed in part two of this narrative through the day to day interactions between faculty and staff members. It is clear that harnessing the power of positive relationships has great potential for bringing about change in schools.

The foundation, actually functioning as a prerequisite, is quality knowledge. This must undergird the moral purpose and relationships. Quality knowledge is exhaustive and collective, held in common by all. It must include knowledge of the context, the students, pedagogy, and history; and it must include the skills necessary for communication and understanding.

This collective quality concept for change encompasses these three beliefs:

  • Quality knowledge as the base on which all individuals operate equally, including skill sets for communicating that knowledge in the context of quality relationships.
  • Quality moral purpose, including a fierce dedication and loyalty to improvement.
  • Quality relationships must exist between and among all levels of individuals in the local school setting. Not everyone likes everyone, but a mutual level of respect, including honest communication, and consideration is imperative.

How does all this jargon translate to what needs to happen for our schools to change into places of learning, excitement, diligence, and collegiality? The knowledge base is key. Teacher education programs must improve their selection of candidates. Just because someone loves children and wants to work the same schedule as when their own children are in school does not indicate they have the moral imperative it takes to be a good teacher. Teacher education candidates should undergo rigorous evaluation to determine their level of dedication. Beyond that, those in positions of hiring school personnel should look more deeply than just a candidate’s qualifications on paper. Does their track record indicate integrity, commitment, and a fierce dedication to do whatever is in the best interest of the children?

                Programs should not only provide subject area content and the pedagogy needed to impart that content to students, but they should instruct teacher candidates in other needed skills, including organizational skills, working collaboratively with others, communicating effectively with others,  and maintaining their own sanity in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Teacher education programs and school district personnel need to make it clear that a teaching degree is only the beginning. A career in teaching requires ongoing professional development that is geared to the population and context of the school. There is an old tale about the teacher or principal with 30 years of experience. Have they actually had 30 years of experiences or have they had the same year of experience over and over 30 times?

Administrators and teachers alike must be freed from the tyranny of state and federal mandates. Even within local districts, there may be differences in schools that preclude district wide mandates. It is not just students who don’t fit into a one size fits all category. Teachers and administrators are sometimes expected to perform miracles through robotic teaching strategies and programs. The adage that “all children can learn” has done innumerable damage. Yes, all children can learn, but what are the givens? Exactly what and how much can they learn and at what rate and under what conditions?

Administrators should be required to go back into a regular classroom for a full year about every eight years. Many administrators have never held the role of regular classroom teacher. They have been coaches, special area teachers, special education teachers, even support personnel such as speech therapists. These are all important, but it is the individual self-contained classroom teacher who is the most critical element in educating students. Brief observations of classroom teachers cannot portray the overall atmosphere in any given classroom.

Finally, we all must remember that children are children. I often hear statements like “Kids are so much smarter these days” or “We never learned that when I was in school.” Step back and take a look at biological milestones. Given no disability, babies learn to walk around the age of one and talk around the age of two. Children lose baby teeth around the age of 6.  Puberty arrives around the age of 11-13. Of course there are always some outliers, but these milestones have not changed in eons and are fairly consistent in all cultures.

Are kids really smarter or do they know different information? When teaching the book Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to fourth graders, I had to constantly stop and explain vocabulary and activities. Present days children do not know that butter is churned from raw milk or that meat can be preserved by smoking. My students were amazed when I relayed to them that I never went to school with black children until high school, and did not know why I referred to their wooden clips as clothespins. Yes, they can operate a computer or cell phone, but not a radio or record player. My argument is that children are children, and we must all hold on to the quality knowledge that pushing down curriculum will not necessarily help our children learn more or faster. Children still have the intellectual developmental milestones that they always had.

Sound overwhelming? It is. Sound impossible? It is not. If enough of those of who know what really goes on inside our schools will be bold enough to speak out, if educators, parents, and concerned citizens will acknowledge the problems, demand action, and be willing to take steps to insure collective quality change in our schools, no child will ever again be forced to plead and beg not to be made to go back into a specific classroom.


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P is for People

Specifically, P is for

People Like Us.

You are probably thinking, us? Who is us?

To whom am I referring?

In the south, a common question is, “Who are your people?” It’s really a way of asking where are you from? Where do you live? What connections might we have? On a deeper level it could mean what do you believe? What are your values? What kind of a life to you live?

As a child I often was told “people like us” don’t act like that, or “people like us” don’t go those places, or “people like us” don’t live over there. Once, when I expressed a desire to be a famous person one day, like a movie star, I was immediately shot down and told, “People like us don’t get to be things like that. Maybe you can be a teacher or a nurse.” I was confused. My childhood dreams were dashed. What did it mean to be people like us? Who were people like us?

Of course now I know what it meant. People like us meant blue-collar working class just a step above poor. People like us were not uppity like those who dressed up and went to church on Sundays, volunteered to lead scout troops, visited the shut-ins, and invited the neighbor kids in for home-baked cookies. It would be years before I understood why my mama didn’t go to church most Sundays, volunteer, or bake homemade cookies. While my daddy worked in a warehouse, she was working long rotating shifts in a glass factory, sweating in the heat to provide more for me and my little brother than my several-years-older siblings had ever dreamed of.  And she had her own shut-ins – my grandmother, granddaddy, an aunt, and a granny to worry about. There were few other opportunities for folks who never finished high school.

Even further down the road, years and years later, I learned through my genealogy research that people like us at one time had been doctors, teachers, court officials, a mayor, a state representative, and wealthy landowners with plantations and mills. All of those people had vanished in the aftermath of the civil war, ravaged by disease, war, blights, and just plain bad luck. I also learned one of my “people” had been a morphine addict, a moonshiner, a madam, and a murderer.

People like us are different depending on who you are. If you come from a long line of preachers, seminarians, and church leaders, then church people are your people. If you come from a long line of salesmen and women, then those are your people. If you have a family full of cooks and caterers, then those are your people. But nothing says we must be one of those people.  Oh, we may get grief from trying to be someone else, not one of them. We may be accused of not meeting our potential, of marrying down (or up), not following the family tradition, being a traitor, or heaven forbid, bringing shame on the family name.

The idea that family background, income, education, attitudes, aspirations, and even appearance can indicate social class in the US was the subject of a PBS Documentary Movie made in 2001, People Like Us: Social Class in America. There are numerous YouTube clips, Pinterest Boards, quote memes, and commentaries about this work. Official website:  http://www.cnam.com/people-like-us/.


There’s nothing wrong with being a hard worker, providing for your kids, and living comfortably, but thank the good Lord in heaven I was able to break out of that rut. Oh, I still worked plenty hard. It was hard work completing several college degrees, working, and, along with my husband, making a comfortable life for our family. One thing is for sure though. I never told my boys they were people like us. I never told them they couldn’t be something they wanted to be. On the contrary, I taught them that if they were willing to work hard enough and get an education, they could be whatever they wanted. Because that’s what people like us do.

Further Reading for People Like Us

Who Are Your People? Posted 5th May 2012 by http://aboutcreate.blogspot.com/2012/05/who-are-your-people.html

Who Are Your People? Posted June 1, 2016 by                             https://perrynoble.com/blog/who-are-your-people

People Like Us: The Atlantic  https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/09/people-like-us/302774/

Who Are Your People?

A Few Tunes

People Like Us: Kelly Clarkston: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWbMz_aBlMU

People Like Us: Curtis Stigers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPA77-FgxsI

People Like Us: Talking Heads: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNcjWdHD6GQ

People Like Us: The Mamas and the Papas:


Who Are Your People? Please share in a comment.

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