Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Lazy, Leisure, Lavender Day of Summer in East Tennessee

The Lavender Festival

June 18, 2016

Historic Jackson Square

Oak Ridge, TN

“There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.”  ~Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

I'm such a sucker for all things that are unique, and handcrafted by someone who creates something because of love. So, when I go to events like The Lavender Festival in Oak Ridge's Jackson Square, I am experiencing one of the best things in life as far as I'm concerned.  I won't spend time highlighting the event, attach charming recipes (even though I'm pretty tempted to),  or write a history about Lavender.  No, since I decided to practice my hand in photography at the event, I will attempt to share some of its ambiance with minimal explanation and information.  How's that?

Smoky Mountain Lavender 

Track down fresh cut Lavender grown in the fields of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina from these Lavender farmers all through the summer at any local farmer's market. For more information, visit their Facebook page @Smokymountainlavender
The coveted Lavender preparing to be bundled
Lavender bundles sold for $5 each and were a hot commodity

Grow your own Lavender, flowers, and herbs

Garden decor from JB Katz

While I was browsing the booths, I kept hearing someone play a banjo. When I would look around, I couldn't tell exactly where it was coming from until I walked up to this booth stock full of sticks and strings attached to (that's right, you got it!) a can.  What type of can, you may wonder?  Any type of can!  There were soup cans, SPAM cans, bean cans, you name it, and their creator was strumming away songs from a song book he also sold with them.  The CANJO was the "coolest" item in the place!
Music from a can!
Just take a listen if you don't believe me!


And speaking of "hunny," my unique find for the day were these Bee's Wax Candle Lanterns by Spring's Eternal located in Athens, Tennessee.  Yes, they are made from bee's wax and designed with homegrown pressed flowers from where they gather their nectar.  The lantern I took home has Dogwood flowers on it!

Spring's Eternal Bee's Wax Candle Lanterns
Last, but certainly not least, I found all the homemade Lavender products I wanted at the LoCo Lavender booth.  Located in Loudon County, Tennessee, their products contain Lavender that is "grown, harvested and distilled on their farm." For more information, visit their web page, LoCoLavender or their Facebook page @LoCo Lavender.

Have a Lovely, Lavender day!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A MTSU Senior Recital

~Music can change the world because it can change people. 


On April 5, 2016, my youngest son, Dustin McGaha's musical work at Middle Tennessee State University was summarized in one hour.  That's right, one hour. How do you fit all of the work of a Bachelor's degree in Musical Performance into one hour? Below are some sound bits from the night.

Recital Program 4/5/16

Dustin's first piece of music was Bach's Prelude and Fugue in EB Major, WTC Book II followed by Beethoven's Sonata Op. 10 No. 1 in C Minor, I. Allegro molto e con brio, II. Adagio molto, III. Pretissimo. Here is a clip from Part I.

The Beethoven piece was his longest piece of music, so after completing it, there was a brief intermission.  The next piece was Chopin's energizing Fantasie -Impromptu, Op. 66.

He followed up with Bolcom's Graceful Ghost Rag.  Then, to round out the evening, Dustin's final two songs were jazzed up in a trio with his friend and drum instructor, Jed Smith, and friend, Tyler Enslow on the bass. Setting the mood with Cole Porter's Night and Day followed by the final song (below) by Sammy Cahn (arr. Oscar Peterson),  Saturday Night (is the Loneliest Night of the Week)


Hence, the culmination of  five years of work in one, extraordinary hour.  Needless to say, this is one proud mom! :)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Springtime at the Knoxville Zoo: Animals in Transition

African Lion
In honor of the last, official day of my spring break for the 2015-16 school year,  I decided to take a trip to the Knoxville Zoo. My spring break has been spent at home catching up on  the chores that I'm sure to neglect during the busy school year.  In addition to catching up on much needed doctor appointments, I also caught up on a lot of other activities that I enjoy as well.  On this day,  I opted to get out the house and take some pictures of other creatures in their habitat also making a seasonal transition.

During my visit, I managed to take about eighty pictures, which is less than what I would have liked, but many of the animals are just getting back into the swing of sunshine and warm weather. Here are some jewels that appeared in my photo stream. Enjoy!

Hamadryas Baboon

Hamadryas Baboon
African Lion

Western Lowland Gorilla

Another Western Lowland Gorilla

Southern White Rhino
African Elephants
Like the rest of us humans, the animals are getting ready for the warm weather and bright sunshine.  Many of the animals, notably, the black bears, and the Malayan tiger were "sacked" out in the shade. Neither time nor the screams of excitement from all the kids could disturb their sleep, so there are no pictures of them, yet.  There are several of the outdoor reptiles who have not made it back into their exhibits yet, such as the Aldabra Giant Tortoise. And the otters were not quite ready to swim. In spite of those few absences, it was a great day to visit the zoo.

For more information about the Knoxville Zoo and its hours, please visit the Visitor's Information. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Warrior's Voice: This is My America

Guest Blogger:  Corporal Chad Reep, United States Marines
                          Facebook Post, 7/18/2015                            
                          Clinton High School, Class of 2005
Email:  creep@vols.utk.edu

Today. Today I am saddened. Today, I hauled around a heart that was heavier than it may have ever been before. Today I woke up confused – confused of my surroundings – confused of the environment I have been living in – confused of the people I encountered. Today is the day I realized that we truly are in peril.
Courtesy of Corporal Chad Reep
When I woke up today, I expected it to be just like any other day – except that it wasn’t. The events that happened the day before stuck with me all through the night, and into the early morning. Four of my brothers died. While I never served with these men while I was in the Marines, they were my brothers. These were men that embarked on the very same journey that I found myself on only ten years ago - a journey that has still to this day been the definition of my life thus far. When I joined the Marines as a naive 19 year-old, I was nowhere close to being the man I already thought I was. That journey, along with the trials that came with it, not only taught me what it was to be a man, but it also taught me what it was to be an American – a proud one at that.

Courtesy of Corporal Chad Reep
That same journey taught me what it was to be honorable – to speak the truth even when it was not popular – to be loyal when being disloyal was so tempting – to have empathy – to give all that I could with no expectation of anything in return – to stand firm in my beliefs no matter how unpopular – and to be able to forgive others for just about anything.

That same journey taught me what it was to be courageous – to accept fear, but to act anyways – to make difficult decisions in a time of need – to be a leader.

That journey taught me what it meant to be committed – to give my whole self to something with all that I have – to see things through until the end no matter how miserable I was. Those who I served with will forever be my brothers and sisters. We share the same blood. We share the same heart.

Courtesy of Corporal Chad Reep
This is not the America I grew up in. This is not the America that allowed me, as a child, to wander as far as I wanted outside of the confines of my parent’s supervision in order to explore the world around me without fear– in order to learn independence – on my own. This is not that America. America, as I knew it back then, no longer exists. We were proud. We were exceptional.

Today, we are in a shameful America – an America full of victims, bottom feeders, and dare I say it, Anti-Americans. We are a reactive America – a sad America. We are an America where criminals get eulogized, and patriots demonized. We are an America where millions of people will change profile pictures to support the breakdown of society as we know it, but won't do the same when four of their protectors are killed by an enemy combatant. We are an America that has created an environment where it is no longer noble or honorable to fight for the very things that make us American. Rather, we are in an America filled with the very people who aim to take away the values and beliefs that have separated us from the rest of the world- the same values and beliefs that have attracted immigrants to this great nation generation after generation.

Courtesy of Corporal Chad Reep
Sadly, the America we now live in is one that educates its children to be anti-American. It’s an America that is now full of college campuses that not only bad mouths the nation that has given them the opportunity to learn any skill they choose and have the opinions they do, but do so with such ease and freedom.

These campuses are the very ones where our veterans find themselves alienated from the very people they have attempted to shield from the true evils of the world while cashing in on the well-earned education that they hoped for after their service was over. These same campuses are the ones full of students, who no longer believe that America is exceptional, but rather it is a plague on the world. To them, America is the problem. In the state we are in right now, can we even call our once-great nation America? Do we deserve to even call these borders that we live within America? In this America we don’t!

The America we live in now is not even America at all. America was not built by whites. America was not built by blacks. America was not built by the Irish, the Chinese, or the Mexicans. America was built by Americans! It was built by us! It was built by people who shared the same image of a free and secure nation, neither of which we see in today’s America.

In my heart, America STILL is exceptional! America still is the freest nation in the world! It is still the only nation where individuals are allowed to travel across borders unmolested. It is still a nation that has endured tragedy after tragedy, while always coming back stronger than ever.  No matter what race, gender, sexual preference that you are, this is still our America. This is MY America. It’s time we start acting accordingly.

Corporal Chad Reep, United States Marines
Corporal Reep will graduate in 2016 with a degree in Political Science
 from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.   

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Delta Kappa Gamma Xi State Legislative Symposium

"Cultivating Educational Relationships with Legislators"
February 3rd & 4th, 2015
Millennium Maxwell House Hotel
Nashville, TN

Xi State Legislative Panel Forum, Tuesday, Feb. 3rd
As the Legislative chair of the Knoxville Zeta Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Nashville for its yearly Legislative Symposium.  As a participant in the symposium, I, along with our chapter president, Dr. Tricia Jones, attended the Xi State Legislative Panel Forum on Tuesday evening at 7:30pm.  This year's moderator was Beta Kappa's, Teresa Brown and members of the panel included the following:
There were approximately ten questions posed to this year's panel that ranged from topics about BEP funding, teacher raises, more spending for school technology and internet access, graduation requirements and common core state standards, teacher preparation programs, teacher retention, the impact of Governor Haslam's Tennessee Promise program, charter schools, and Tennessee's "on-time" graduation rates.

Notable comments:
Representative Raumesh Akbari stated that Commom Core State Standards are not an example of "federal intrusion" since they were not developed on the federal level. She also stated in support of the standards since state training has already begun and that there has been positive change.  She reported that teachers she has talked to are supporting these changes, and notably according to the National Assessment to the Education Process (NAEP), Tennessee is the #1state in student growth. Donna Cotner, Executive Director of TN Retired Teachers' Association added that "reform must occur in the classroom in order for students to compete nationally."  With regards to charter schools, Donna Cotner also stated that statistically, charter schools have not done any better than current public schools and that "management by desertion is poor management."  Jim Wrye also added that charter schools have "high attrition rates," and that he is especially concerned about those rates as they relate to elementary schools.

Xi State Legislative Breakfast, Wednesday, Feb. 4th
On Wednesday morning at 6:30am, symposium participants attended the Music City Breakfast Buffet
Dr. Candice McQueen 

with keynote speaker, and newly appointed Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Dr. Candice McQueen. Dr. McQueen emphasized three key points in her Legislative Symposium Breakfast Address.  Those key points were as follows:
  • Ensure that we move from the bottom half of all states according to NAEP by 2019.  This goal is the right direction for creating an educated workforce for the state of Tennessee.
  • Majority of students will go to post secondary schools. There is a very small success rate for students after graduating high school and their average salary is $9,000.
  • Improving ACT scores and aligning our standards to the ACT standards.
Notable comments:
Early childhood reading rates must show that students are on reading level by 3rd grade.  Also, there must be more accountability in PreK schools to help ensure that students are appropriately ready for Kindergarten.  Dr. McQueen also noted that older students are a concern as well. Data shows that there is very little change in literacy rates between the 8th and 12th grade years. 

Pictured are: Jessica Holman, Alpha Mu President; Nancy Irwin, Alpha Tau President; Beverly Smith, Xi State President; Linda Garner, Alpha Tau; Dr. Tricia Jones, Zeta President; Denise McGaha, Zeta; Christine Furman, Alpha Mu

The overall atmosphere of the symposium was very positive and many participants were able to attend the state's capitol for meetings that were scheduled with elected legislators. The emphasis here is the belief that contact from a district's constituents can have an important role on legislative votes. Delta Kappa Gamma Society offers these five important things to remember when contacting your legislator.
  1. Know how a bill becomes law.
  2. Know the bill number.
  3. Know their schedules and agendas which are posted at the Capitol and on the internet.
  4. Know their committee assignments.
  5. Be simple and be brief.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Experience the Art of Letting Go

“One person with a divine purpose, passion and power is better than 99 people who are merely interested. Passion is stronger than interest.”

― Israelmore Ayivor 

Set in suburban Powell, Tennessee, Hands in the Air: Jim Kennedy and the PHS Singers is a movie that captures the heart of its audience, and the passion of one music teacher through its intimate look at the creation of one of Tennessee’s top high school singing groups. The movie begins with the group’s final 2013 spring showcase performance that is highlighted by Mr. Kennedy’s resounding message, “how are they going to grow, if we don’t let them go.”  It will be this message that threads the movie together as the film documents auditions, retreats, practices, festivals, performances, and interviews from both current and former members of the program. From the moment he makes the decision to cut one of the veteran singers to the movie’s final performance, Hands in the Air offers an insightful look into one teacher’s program that develops the dynamics of being a group, supports them to excel in performance, and ultimately, watches them  meet his highest expectations. Audiences will laugh, cry, celebrate, and be inspired by this real look at a successful approach to teaching.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Teens and Summer Jobs: Working to Cure the Summertime Blues

Much like the lifestyles associated with differing genres of music, country music has always glorified traditional perspectives of American life, embodying traditional values of patriotism, religion, romantic love, traditional marriage, and living as a working class man. Appreciated by both young and old, country music echoes trials and tribulations, lessons learned, and represents the art of combining music with story telling.  In 1994, Georgia born, country music singer and song writer, Alan Jackson, known as much for his country boy image as his music, placed his southern, honkytonk sound on Eddie Cochran's 1958 hit song, Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues.

I'm gonna take two weeks, gonna have a vacation
I'm gonna take my problem to the United Nation
Well I called my congressman and he said quote
"I'd like to help you son, but you're too young to vote"

Obvious Extrinsic Rewards
Such are the words that many vacationing high school students can relate to especially if they are cramming in hours for summer jobs. In fact, teens with summer jobs probably relate to living as a working class man too. Many teens take on the work to earn dollars for important matters like helping out with their car insurance, paying cell phone bills, buying trendy, new clothes, and many other reasons.  After all, everybody who is anybody in the world of teenagers must possess some essentials before earning the right to be recognized as a modern teen.

Identifying Intrinsic Rewards
While these are all good motivators for teens to work summer jobs, there are a few good lessons that we, as their parents, their teachers, their bosses, and their political leaders should consider. What is it about a summer job that motivates teens to remain dedicated to wearing uniforms on a daily basis, keeping a calendar with their work schedule written on it, interacting with strangers, working overtime, staying engaged until the shift is done?  Most would say “it’s all about the money.” However, considering the fact that teens want to be the “driver” of not only their own cars, but of their own lives as well, it should also be considered that teens might actually be motivated by the sense of accomplishment they receive when that paycheck comes their way. 

The fact that two weeks of consistent, steady work habits have resulted in a monetary reward might also make them feel successful and valued. When we translate those ideas into educational thought, isn’t it possible that at the core, it can also be said that teens are motivated by results that give them a sense of accomplishment, and make them feel successful, and valued. Yes, it definitely is not only possible, but probable as well. 

This is a lesson for high school leaders and educators to remember when these students arrive back in our schools and classes next fall. Ideally, when a student receives a grade in a course, the grade should provide the same satisfaction. But as we know, sadly, not all students perceive this result with the same value. So the question is, how can students connect the intrinsic rewards from earning dollars to earning good grades?

Translating Extrinsic Into Intrinsic
Imagine the type of grades students would receive if teachers could harness the same passion and fervor teens demonstrate for monetary rewards when it comes to completing their school assignments. We thought about how classroom teachers could lasso this aspect of student motivation and bring it into classroom accomplishment? We also began to consider how to maintain retention for our Honors/AP courses? The answers to these questions are exactly what inspired the creation of our Honors/AP Summer Reading groups. With an understanding that Honors students are most likely the ones who are more motivated by intrinsic rewards, we realize they still struggle with completing the summer assignment, and, as a result, with already one incomplete assignment, their struggle to remain in the course continues even after school begins. 
Apart from selecting easier books to read, our teachers grappled with the type of activities that should accompany the assignment. They considered written assignments that would promote engagement and motivation. They thought about the weight of the grade.  In spite of many good strategies for accountability, all proved unsuccessful as students returned from summer break only to schedule appointments with their counselors to get their schedule changed to another class in efforts to avoid starting out with failing grade.

Consequently, educational research indicates that while teaching strategies are important, the number one factor influencing positive student achievement is high student engagement. We concluded that what suffers the most over the long, summer break is student engagement, because many teens still need structured guidance with time management. As a way of coping with the lack of structure guidance during the summer, teens replace school with a job, their teachers are replaced with bosses, their social interactions with those of co-workers, and content study is replaced with labor!

Focusing on Intrinsic Rewards 
The main purpose of the groups is about supporting student engagement with the assignment and not mandating expectations. We decided that the key to this support would be a structure that offered students the encouragement throughout the summer. As a result, we designed a program that would support Honors/AP students with weekly meeting times with an English teacher who would support them with goal setting, annotating texts, informal discussions about their books, question answering, reflective writing, reading logs, and positive interactions with peers.

While students participating in our summer reading groups will not receive any monetary (extrinsic) reward for their work, they will also not be penalized for choosing not to participate either.  But, it is our hope and expectation that the experience of successful completion of the assignment, and positive academic discussion with their peers will help promote the type of intrinsic rewards students need to maintain interesting, satisfying, and challenging coursework throughout the rest of their high school years.

What are some other successful ideas that promote student engagement during long breaks?

Well my mom and pop told me, "Son you gotta make some money,
If you want to use the car to go ridin' next Sunday"
Well I didn't go to work, told the boss I was sick
"Well you can't use the car 'cause you didn't work a lick"
Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna do
But there ain't no cure for the summertime blues