Jane Pyecha Runs One of the Best Schools in Addis Ababa. Now She’s Teaching Others How it’s Done.

The morning rush hour in Addis Ababa is beyond alive.  People are lined up for blocks to catch the city bus to work.  Drivers wheeling overcrowded “blue donkey” taxis hustle to move people from the hubs of Kazanches and Mexico Square.  Shopkeepers are preparing to sell everything from bananas and pineapple to injera and freshly butchered beef.  Shoe shines, fresh fried donuts and fresh brewed coffee. It’s all for sell.

In the midst of the movement of rush hour, Head to Toe Early Learning Center and Kindergarten sits on a quiet street in the heart of Addis Ababa, just past the busy Meganegna roundabout.  The beautifully manicured garden that surrounds the school is a unique and rare greenspace among the schools in Addis Ababa. It is here that Head to Toe provides a play-based curriculum for children ages 0-7 — something that didn’t exist before Jane Pyecha opened the school in 2009.




Pyecha, an experienced international educator, moved from the Middle East to Addis Ababa to teach preschool in an international school.  After getting married and having her first child, the North Carolina native decided to lay down permanent roots in Ethiopia.

“Many years ago, when I was looking for a preschool for my own child, many of the schools were doing things that were not age appropriate, such as handwriting worksheets” says Pyecha.  “It appeared that most preschools were in the business of ‘babysitting’ and not making much effort to interact constructively with the children.”  Knowing that ages 0-5 are when a child’s brain develops the most, she set out to develop a play-based in-home preschool that would allow her to spend time with her new son at the same time serving the needs of two other families.



Eight years later, a manicured play yard equipped with seesaws, balance bikes, swings, and shade sails surround the school building.  But it’s not just the beautiful play yard that makes this school different from the others. Three things are at the core of its uniqueness:  Well-trained teachers; evidence-based teaching strategies; and an inclusive learning environment.

overhead shot

Well-Trained Teachers

Jane Pyecha has been teaching for 24 years and is a specialist in teacher training and curricula development. She hires Ethiopian and foreign teachers not based on their credentials, but based on their love for children and willingness to learn.  “I hire teachers that have strong English skills and have teaching in their heart,” says Pyecha. On top of this, her teachers receive ongoing professional development and weekly 1:1 coaching to learn new approaches as the needs of the students evolve.  Giving the teachers the opportunities to advance their skills keeps the teaching fresh and has led to very low teacher turnover.

teacher and parents

Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies, Play-Based Learning

There is no shortage of research on the importance of play in developing the minds of children ages 0-5.  Head to Toe integrates the HighScope curriculum with directed, and self-directed group-style play. In the morning, you’ll find toddlers in circle time before choosing their first learning “stations.”  At one station they learn cooperation by using magnetic blocks to build towers together; at the costume station they express creativity as they pretend to be doctors.  Cooking play-doh burgers on a pretend grill teaches children self-confidence and responsibility.



Pyecha admits that her play-based approaches weren’t always welcome in the schools in Lebanon and Abu Dhabi, where highly structured “skill and drill” methods were preferred over “exploring and investigating.”   But even there, she sold a few administrators on the play-based approach.  “We are an active learning program,” says Pyecha.  “Instead of doing worksheets, here children remember their letters by drawing them in the sand box. We focus on play-based learning because through play is how kids learn best.  We want to make sure our kids have lots of different kinds of stimulation.”   The children are constantly learning and they don’t even realize it.



In the afternoon, the kids are hard at work on a collaborative art piece.  The teacher guides them in the creation of “deep art” that is worked on over several weeks, and where all of the ideas for how to construct a piece come from the children themselves.  Creating the art over an extended period of time develops the child’s imagination, helps them to focus, and uses their analysis skills. No two pieces are alike.

collaborative artwork 2

Each year the children’s artwork is auctioned off in a swank fundraising event for a local charity.  Parents dress up in bow ties and drink champagne and buy art that is truly deserving of a place in one’s home.



Family Support – Nannies & Children with Special Needs

Head to Toe offers two programs that foster inclusiveness in the community.  The “Nanny and Me” program, is open to children ages 6 months to 2 years.  Nannies are invited to bring infants to do activities, sing-alongs, and story-time up to five mornings a week.  Nannies can then use the techniques the learn at home with the children.

outdoor circle time

A second program provides scholarships and a family support group for children with special needs.  Children who would normally spend their entire lives hidden from society because of the stigma can enroll in Head to Toe’s full-day program — the only of its kind in the city.   “We realized how little there was available to them,” Pyecha says.  “They don’t get to see extended family.  The kids truly don’t leave the house.  I will never turn a child down if it’s at all possible.”

Head to Toe’s offering of a basic right to play is consistent with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that nations should provide opportunities for children to participate fully in cultural, artistic, recreational, and leisure activity.   The parent support group shares resources, challenges, and successes. It also provides emotional support to the parents of children with special needs, which doesn’t really exist elsewhere.



A special education consultant has trained all of the teachers on strategies for interacting with children with special needs.  “The staff have really become passionate about this group of children,” says Pyecha.  “It’s hard for people to hear that their child has special needs. Sometimes when you’re the first person to say it they don’t want to accept it and you don’t see those people again. But other times they are grateful for the help, ” she adds. These children are able to come out and play, interact, and be a part of society.

little builders

Teaching Others How it is Done

Early childhood education in Addis Ababa continues to evolve.  And as more expats and the Ethiopian diaspora are returning to Addis seek quality preschool education, most of the newly established schools are now play-based.  To help develop these new schools, Pyecha provides individual and group consulting, and facilitates workshops and training for teachers, caregivers and parents on a variety of education topics that have been fundamental to Head to Toe’s success.   She hopes to one day bring this kind of experience to vulnerable children such as refugees.


Pyecha advises anyone who wants to establish a school targeting a truly international population to understand the inherent challenge of working with many different cultures and social contexts.  “You have to learn where the parents are coming from and what their experiences have been.  If your approach is very different from what they know and expect, there will be some inherent barriers that have to be overcome.”

She also emphasizes the importance of her husband and business partner Teddy’s patience and savvy.  As a native Ethiopian, his help was essential for navigating the culture and bureaucracy of establishing and maintaining a business there.

teddy and gigi

Pyecha is happy to have changed the face of early childhood education in Addis Ababa. Head to Toe also fulfilled her goal of providing high quality preschool education for her own two children.  She hopes that the evolution will continue well into the future.

jane and gigiJane Pyecha, International Education Specialist and Consultant, has been a leader and advocate in education, sharing her technical expertise with colleagues and administrators for 20+ years (15 internationally).  Using her skills in assessment and adaptability she gears her teaching to each student’s learning capabilities to help them reach their individual levels of success.  Contact Jane Pyecha on LinkedIn to learn more about her consulting services or about Head to Toe Early Learning Center and Kindergarten in Addis Ababa.


If You Do These 10 Things, You’re Winning at Fatherhood

Loving a child is not particularly hard.  One look at that bobble head and beer belly and we’re sold.  Throw in a smile and we’re forever smitten.

But babies grow up. We believe that parenting will get easier. But it doesn’t. You go from late nights wiping stinky bottoms to late nights wiping uncontrollable tears.  How do you explain to an 8 year old why some kids are just mean?

Time goes on. Just when you perfect the art of parenting that 8 year old, she has a birthday and turns 14.  The game changes.  You dole out advice and wonder if she’s listening.  Someone is always in a funk, even when ice cream is involved.  Spending every Saturday coaching kids sports, watching kids sports, or working so that you can afford to pay for kids sports — that’s all hard stuff.

But a lot of fathers are doing what’s hard every day.  They show up.  And we moms appreciate it. And although we may not say it as much as we should, continue being awesome dads. For those who forgot what awesome looks like, here’s a reminder.

Great dads do things they don’t want to do. Spending a day at the beach is not my husband’s idea of a good time. He doesn’t swim. He sees no point to laying in the sun on an uncomfortable beach chair, surrounded by sand.  But the beach  =  hours of fun for the wife and kids. So he does his best to enjoy it at least once a year.

Zanzibar, Tanzania


Great dads clean up the big messes. Spilled milk? No problem.  Snotty nose? I got you.  But when my son got into the green paint, tag. Dad was it.  “Super Dad” protects little feet by sweeping broken dishes from floors and handles anything requiring a plunger.  When I don’t want to get my hands dirty, I don’t have to.


Great dads shovel snow.  Every year it snows in Maryland. And every year, this dad makes sure that a path is safe and doesn’t ice over.  This is isn’t just for our safety but for the safety of the mail carrier and any neighbors that might brave the cold to visit us.  He helps us enjoy the snow when we are completely over it.  I call it our “snow day rules.”  And yes, he builds snowmen.


Great dads teach their kids how to  “shovel snow.”  Snow shoveling, here, is a metaphor for any skill that dad imparts, which the kids can then go brag to their friends about.   Did your dad teach you how to shoot a gun? Build a fire? Do long division? Play basketball? Ride a bike? Change a tire? Catch a fish? Pick a lock? Drive a riding lawnmower, ATV, or a car? If yes, chances are you have an awesome dad.


Great dads don’t ask for directions.  Great dads, actually discard the directions when going anywhere or assembling anything that seems remotely intuitive.  At the expense of being a mild annoyance to me, ditching the instructions teaches the kids to trust their instincts, abilities, and talents and to also and to enjoy the journey; because without instructions, this just might take a while.SONY DSC


Great dads fix cars (or can at least keep a mechanic honest). I am lucky to have landed a guy who is talented when it comes to basic car maintenance and repair. He’s the “Dan” to my “Roseanne.” This is because he had a great dad, who taught him how to change a tire, to check oil, to bleed breaks, and that in a pinch, break fluid is a decent substitute for power steering fluid. Rarely are we in a serious car bind. And if we need a mechanic, he knows just enough to keep the mechanic honest. I look forward to the day when our kids are under the hood with him.



Great dads make holidays fun.  Even though he refuses to indulge the kids with fantasies about Santa Claus, he does his best to make the major holidays special for the kids. So while I am getting Halloween costumes together and putting up lights, he’s there with the camera in hand to capture all the special moments.

School Halloween Festival


Great dads encourage the building of forts. Kids can rest easy knowing that dad will not blink an eye at the impromptu building of a fort in the living room, especially since it was probably all dad’s idea. Great dads take time get on the floor with kids and play, whether it’s giving piggy back rides, indoor hide n’ seek, or spending hours zoned out on the video games.


Great dads take you to see real life forts. This future Jeopardy-contestant dad never misses an opportunity to teach the kids. When our son was doing a report on the Wright Brothers, we drove 30 miles south to the National Air and Space Museum to check out one of their first planes up close.  Our Hamilton-crazed daughter was able to see a special exhibit and tour on his life by taking a 2 hour drive north to Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. Near or far, he’s usually up for an experience that will bring the story books to life.  Yes, those pyramids in the “Prince of Egypt,” are a thing.

Dad & Son Atop the Fort
Dad & Son atop the Nizwa Fort, Oman
Kids enjoy Gondar Castle, Gondar Ethiopia
The Blue Nile Falls, near Bahir Dar Ethiopia

Great dads look good on mom’s arm.  After great dads are done cleaning up green paint and cleaning engine oil from under their nails, they clean up well. I never miss an opportunity to dress him up and step out on the town.


Enjoying coffee on at Wude Coffee, Bahir Dar

Hats off to all the great dads in the world.  And if you have a great dad in your life, make sure that he knows it this Father’s Day — show him in his love language or the best way you know how.  For everyone appreciates sincere, kind words of appreciation spoken from the heart.





To Make Dad Feel Loved on Father’s Day, Observe How he Loves

Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentines Day.  These “Hallmark holidays,”  deliberately designed to push greeting cards in America are now a social norm. When these days roll around, dads, moms, and those “in a relationship,”  appreciate (dare I say, expect) some sort of acknowledgment.  How can you show your father you care and avoid the cliches and make Father’s Day really count?  If you know your dad’s primary love language, you’re halfway there.

In his book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, Gary Chapman suggests that each person has one primary and one secondary  way to express and experience love.  He calls these expressions, “love languages.”  By observing how your father expresses love towards others, you can learn his love language, then show your love exactly how he likes to receive it.

Receiving Gifts

For dads that like receiving gifts, avoid giving a gift just for the sake of giving.  Put some real thought into it. Does he have a collection that you can add to? Would the latest gadget help him enjoy a hobby he loves?  Maybe he needs some cash put towards a holiday he’s been planning.  Chances are, he’s already told you what he wants.  I just hope you were listening.

accessories accessory business clothing
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Quality Time

Fathers who value quality time enjoy undivided attention.  No, he does not want to ride shotgun you while you run errands. Yes, you must put your phone away during dinner. When he invites you to go fishing or over just to watch tv, go and don’t complain.  Give 100% to show him how much he means to you.

Acts of Service

A dad who values acts of service might rarely say the words, “I love you;” but he does his best to make sure that you have what you need.  These dads sacrifice. They hustle. They leave money in your car in case you run low on gas.  Take time this Father’s day to return his love by putting in work. Maybe he needs you to clear out the garage; to help him install a vegetable garden; or to fix up his old hobby car.   The warm feeling you get afterward from having put his needs before your own, is a bonus.

abandoned orange sedan
Photo by Georgi Petrov on Pexels.com

Physical Touch

The latest scientific research suggests that touch is good for our health. But something happens in the teenage years.  The number of hugs we give our dads diminish as we try to show our independence.  If you are lucky to be with your father on Father’s Day, give him a hug.  And this time, be the last one to let go.  He’ll appreciate it more than he’ll let on.

Words of Affirmation

Dads who value words of affirmation will always say, “I love you,” knowing the impact of words on our feelings. This Father’s Day, don’t stop at “I love you,” written in a greeting card. Say”thank you” out loud so that he and everyone can hear it.

I challenge everyone to give words of affirmation this Father’s Day, regardless of your father’s preferred love language.  Tell the dads, grandads, uncle-dads, and husband-dads in your lives exactly what they mean to you.  For everyone appreciates sincere, kind words of appreciation spoken from the heart.  Those who have lost their fathers know well enough that the day will come when only photos and memories are left.  When that day comes, you’ll be glad that you spoke those words.


Playing it Safe: 8 Basic Things All Smart Travelers Do

We all expect good things to happen when we travel for vacation or business. We will close the deal. We will sleep in. We will drink unlimited adult beverages.  But sometimes bad things happen. I have the stories to prove it.

My colleague was swindled out of nearly $100 after accepting an invitation for coffee at a stranger’s house in Accra.  A friend’s cell phone was stolen mid-trip while souvenir shopping in an open air market in Addis Ababa.  I have been grounded in Frankfurt because of weather (somewhat predictable), Hong Kong because my connecting flight did not arrive (not so predictable), and in Nairobi because because the plane was held for the Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya who was running extremely late (a gypsy fortuneteller couldn’t predict this).

Smart travelers know how to minimize risks.  As for the inevitable unpredictable situations that come with the traveling territory, add these habits to your list of rituals for a better travel experience.

Book the most direct route you can afford.  When choosing between a flight with several connections and a couple of hundred dollars, limit your connections if you can afford it.  A missed connection could have you re-booking every subsequent flight which can trim days from your trip and cause you to forfeit non-refundable hotel nights or excursions.  If you don’t have time to waste, always book the shortest route.  Fewer connections mean fewer opportunities for something to go wrong.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before boarding, have some local currency in hand.  There is a camp of people who won’t bother using local currency at all. For instance, in certain Caribbean countries, U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Some choose to get cash from the local ATM or a currency exchange service after reaching their destination.  While quick cash is easy in most major cities, whether or not you have the luxury of waiting depends on where you are going.  All destinations are not credit and debit card-friendly.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Smart travelers arrive in country with at least enough local currency to get to their hotel and to have a meal or two without having to tap the ATM. Ideally,  carry enough to last until the next business day.  Having some local currency will buy you some time to get to a bank in case you have trouble with the ATM when you arrive or the currency exchange services are closed.  If you are not able to exchange cash ahead of time, suck it up and pay the higher fees to exchange money or use the ATM at the airport. Bottom line. Don’t leave the airport without it.

Be prepared for medical expenses.  I’ve used hospitals or clinics in 5 different countries for everything from tooth aches to food poisoning and they all wanted to know before any treatment was provided, how I was planning to pay.  In one country, I was even asked to go pay in advance for the treatment while my husband waited with our toddler who was struggling to dislodge a marble from his throat.  Cash only. No exceptions.

ambulance architecture building businessPhoto by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you have an accident or illness while traveling, be prepared to pay for your healthcare up front.  Even if you have purchased traveler’s insurance, the facility might not accept it.  This doesn’t mean you should forego the insurance. If you have insurance (highly recommended), you can file a claim to the insurance company for reimbursement.

Carry along additional security.  Three simple things will keep you safer while traveling:  a door wedge, a decoy purse or wallet, and a flashlight.  If your hotel room door does not have an extra latch to prevent people from coming in, a rubber wedge placed under your door will buy you some time in the case of an intrusion.  A decoy purse or wallet holding nothing of value or a little cash, will give persistent thieves something to steal.  Conceal your real money and phone in a belt under your clothes.  A flashlight is helpful in developing countries prone to power outages.  One that telescopes or has a long handle can double as a baton.  These items don’t weigh much and will all fit in a carry-on bag.

Avoid using the room safe.  Using the hotel room safe is a better option than carrying all of your valuables with you or trying to hide them in your luggage in your room.  But there are times when the hotel’s safe is unsafe.  They are easy to break into, can be carried off, and the staff have a master code that can override your own code.  When in doubt, ask the hotel staff to put your items in their office’s safe.  Make sure you get a receipt for the items you leave in their care.

Pack useful carry-on bags.  Carry-on luggage should only contain items you can’t afford to loose, fragile items, and things that will keep you comfortable for at least a day.

woman walking on pathway while strolling luggage
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

If your checked luggage does not arrive when you do, you will be glad that you have these things:

  • Items you don’t want to loose – Passport, money, phone/electronic devices and chargers, keys, important documents, itinerary copies, emergency contacts
  • A complete change of clothes, including outwear appropriate for the weather
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Medications
  • Personal hygiene items
  • A flashlight
  • Travel pillow/ blanket
  • High protein snacks
  • Empty water bottle
  • Travel adapter for electronics
  • A good book

If it is not on this list, it belongs in a checked bag.

Allow enough time between layovers.  Booking a flight with a short layover is tempting because they are usually cheaper.  And who doesn’t like short layovers?  Meet Kim. Kim got a good deal on a flight from Los Angeles to Miami with a 50 minute layover in Atlanta.  Although her flight arrived to Atlanta on time, the airplane taxied for 30 minutes before letting passengers off. It took her another 20 minutes of sprinting to get to the connection terminal, arriving winded and too late.  Forced to depart the next day,  Kim had missed her sister’s engagement brunch, which she had been looking forward to for months.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Don’t be like Kim.  Unless you are really familiar with your layover airport and are sure you can make a short connection, avoid layovers that are less than an hour on domestic flights and fewer than 2 hours when flying internationally.  Any shorter than this is a risk. Long security lines, distance between terminals (especially if reaching your connection requires a shuttle ride), or your own flight being delayed can cause you to miss your connection.

Leave an itinerary with someone. Let someone know where you are going, when you will get there, and where you plan to sleep.  American travelers can take it a step further and register their trip with the Embassy or Consulate in the country they are traveling to through STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) run by the Department of State.   STEP helps you receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helps the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency (natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency) and STEP helps family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.


No one plans to be stuck in the airport, have their wallet stolen or fall down the stairs while on vacation. But taking a few simple steps will help you handle unexpected situations in stride.


Hike Like a Girl 2018 | Scenes from Patapsco Valley State Park, Maryland

Patapsco Valley State Park in May is a treat for the eyes and ears.   These photos of my May 5th, Hike Like a Girl adventure feature the park’s McKeldin area, a popular place for nature lovers, bikers, hikers, horseback riders, and picnickers to spend a little time.


The Trailhead

Marked with white, the Switchback trail is about 4 miles and is the longest trail in the McKeldin area of the park.  The loop took me around 1.5 hours to hike.


The lime green leaves of spring are just starting to dominate the landscape.


Veering off of the main trail onto the footpath will allow you to avoid the bikers.


A sample of the variety in the park’s foliage.


About 3/4 miles in, the rocky path and landscape flattens.


I was surprised to find this lily of the valley patch.




The  Patapsco River, which flows through 16,000 acres in Frederick and Carroll counties, calls  me to “sit a spell.” With 3 more miles to go, I whisper, “next time.”


About 2 miles in, the Switchback Trail takes hikers from the river bank, up into the hills, displaying a bird’s eye view of the water down below.


This fallen tree is so big that it straddles both banks of the creek.

I eavesdropped on this feathered couple’s conversation. Soon after, they began fighting.



A little over 3 miles in and the only way left to go is up. The trail’s end was waiting for me about 15 minutes on the other side.


If You Don’t Carry a Tiny Notebook When You Travel, Get One

In a world with no shortage of Instagram-worthy photos of people jumping off of cliffs or riding elephants on holiday, putting memories into writing seems far less exciting.  Catchy photos get more “likes” than essays, which tend to be overlooked by everyone other than our mothers.  However, if your goal is to truly document your reactions, feelings, and thoughts about a new place, nothing beats putting pen to paper.

Tiny Notebooks and Solo Travel

The tiny notebook is the perfect travel companion.  It is inconspicuous, lightweight, and most importantly, private.  In it I have recorded “politically incorrect” observations without worrying about being criticized by internet trolls. If I find out later that my observations are naive or altogether wrong, I can edit my thoughts and not worry about them being repeated.

Why Not Just Take a Picture?

While traveling in China, my tiny notebook is where I recorded the meals that I ate, the names of unfamiliar foods, and how I really felt about people jockeying to take pictures with “a real live Black person.”  Day by day I’ve jotted down seemingly insignificant details — the names of streets crossed, how much a taxi cost, how long it took to walk the entire Forbidden City, which pool was my favorite at the hot springs spa, who I wish was sitting next to me as I watched that beautiful sunset. Today those notes trigger my memories in a way that the photos simply can’t.

Scrap-booking for the Rest of Us

Pairing a tiny notebook with glue or tape makes it easy to scrap-book on the go.  Open mine from 2002 and you’ll find a ticket stub from Rent, my first Broadway play.  It holds phone numbers of people I’ve met, reflections on my first time crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, notes about what adventure I wanted to experience next.

Tiny Notebooks and New Ideas

Travel inspires creativity.  And it is nearly impossible for a photograph to document the new ideas that surface when experiencing a place for the first time. Jotting those ideas down in a tiny notebook is your insurance.  As long as you don’t lose it, you can always go back and re visit everything you thought you forgot — that great business idea, the name of a local artist that your bartender recommended, tips for future travelers, or maybe even why you will never step foot in that place again.

If you don’t carry a tiny notebook when you travel, get one. Twenty years from now, you’ll be glad that you did.

One Trip To India Turned Me Into a Street Photographer

Inspired by the colorful people of India, guest writer Jenna Hurley shares how she discovered the joy of street photography.  Her candid photos of everyday life in Delhi, Varanasi,  Agra, Ranthambore, and Jaipu show us that India’s beauty is more than just its architecture.  

Travel made me a photographer. When I first started traveling consistently (mostly in Europe), my shots focused almost entirely on buildings. I wasn’t intentionally ignoring human subjects, per se.  European buildings are usually the grand feature in the landscape.  They make for easy targets – light, shadow, strong angles and contrast, intricate details. . . all easy shutterbug fodder.

As time’s gone on, I’ve had the good fortune to travel to many more esoteric destinations – Libya, Thailand, Kenya – but, save for one phenomenal safari, my photography formula has stayed pretty consistent. Focus on the inanimate. Line up the shot. Maybe tilt the angle a little for perspective. In short, I’ve taken the easy way out.

But India changed all that. In India, I found a destination that made me forget my monument orientation.

It’s not that India lacks for grand monuments (I mean, the Taj Mahal, right?). But on the whole, India is still poor and developing. There apparently isn’t much room in the national budget for monument restoration when 70% of the rural population still doesn’t have routine access to basic sanitary facilities. Northern India is also a relatively dry and dusty place; it would be a study in shades of beige were it not for its people.

Whether it is a product of innate Indian spirit or just a necessary way to distinguish themselves from their surroundings, Indians seem to live in a gorgeous array of bright, audacious colors. Indian women were doing pattern mixing and clashing way before Western high fashion deemed it cool.

While Indian men are on the whole less predictably colorful, even they were interesting subjects.


One of the pictures I most regretted not being prepared for was a rail thin Indian man, leathered by the sun, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and draped in typical white rural garb, leaning back against his empty pack animal-driven cart, sporting a screaming neon green turban. I’m sure I looked the fool — a white girl clumsily trying to snap pictures of entire families packed onto a single motorcycle (while pretending to be discrete); but I could not help myself. How can you not want a picture of a woman draped in a beautiful sari, perched on the back of a motorcycle, holding honest-to-God clay pots (plural!), the kind you might otherwise see in a museum exhibit? I mean, how do you even ride a motorcycle in a sari?!

Whether sweeping the sidewalk with a traditional straw broom or hawking vegetables in a street market;  observing a religious ceremony or conducting the backbreaking business of bailing hay by hand — it seemed like all of the texture of life.  All those intricate details — the tiling and gargoyles and old wooden doors — was most on display among India’s people.  And I wanted pictures of all of them.

Even though I often found the best fodder while we were en route from one point to another, and I’m still trying to figure out settings and optimum apertures with a camera I often fear is smarter than I am, I’d like to think a few of them came out pretty well.


1_jennaJenna Hurley is a would-be nomad currently living in Kuwait with her husband, son, and two cats. She aims to start a blog at whatever glorious moment her son decides to start predictably sleeping through the night.


Earth Day All Year | 10 Children’s Books That Parents Will Want to Read, Too

Earth Day may have come and gone, but these books for young readers, selected for their entertainment value, vivid illustrations, or interesting story-line will tune kids into environment all year long.  Parents may also learn a thing or two along the way!

Animals and Insects

UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian

Toddlers learn the origin of honey through this lyrical collection of rhymes.  Each page features a different poem along with a bit of information about honeybees to help adults learn, too.  In just a few pages, it covers where honeybees live, their anatomy, social structure, about pollination, honey and more, making it perfect for bedtime.

Bugs Galore by Peter Stein, Illustrated by Bob Staake

With its animated illustrations and catchy rhymes, Bugs Galore will become a favorite that parents won’t mind reading over and over again. Read it before your next nature hike to introduce insects of every size, shape and color.

Sustainable Forestry

Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kotecki-Shaw

This story is about Julia Butterfly Hill’s fight to save an ancient redwood tree from being cut down for profit by the Pacific Lumber Company.   Kotecki-Shaw takes the reader from the time the tree was born 1000 years ago till the end of Hill’s two year-sit in. The pastel, water colored illustrations provide a calm backdrop and keep little ones engaged. Pair it with Hill’s memoir — the adult version of this story.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

First African woman Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai’s  story comes to life in this beautifully illustrated, child-friendly recount of her effort to mobilize villagers to replenish central Kenyan forests.  Simple language makes it easy for little ones to understand the role of local, small scale farms in providing inexpensive food sources and how conserving the natural forests can prevent soil erosion.

The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynn Cherry

Animals of the Amazon Rain Forest convince a man to put down his ax when he breaks from his chopping to take nap.  He awakes to a beautiful menagerie and a newfound appreciation for the rain forest’s value.

Experiential Learning

Eyewitness Explorer:  Nature Ranger by Richard Walker

Invite kids to explore the natural world through one of the 20+ hands on activities presented in this book.  Use a magnifying glass to explore creatures living in a nearby pond.  Collect pine cones, harvest their seeds, and observe their variations. Each activity includes a simple supply list, instructions, and detailed information about each concept which make it easy for adults to guide kids along.


One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

When plastic bags become a big problem in the Gambia, the women reused them to weave beautiful things.  This story will inspire children to be creative in making seemingly useless items useful again.  As a bonus, introduce children to the Gambian language, Wolof. A language glossary and pronunciation guide is included in the book.

Stuff! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by Steven Kroll, Illustrated by Steve Cox

Pinch, the pack rat that has collected so many things that they are spilling out of his house!  Children will be entertained as they discover how he purges most of his things and convinces his friends to do the same.

Marine Life Conservation & Water

The Sea, The Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry

This book is one to take along to your next beach vacation.  It vividly describes the important role of mangrove trees — the only tree that grows in salty sea-water.  Explore the habitats for a variety of sea creatures and learn how the mangroves protect them.

Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home by Michelle Mulder

More of a reference book than a story book, parents can turn here for answers about how ancient and modern people collect and care for water.   How do underground wells work? What is a rain barrel? Why did water pollution became such a big problem?  This book answers all of these and features photographs of people from all over the world, collecting water and using it in everyday life.

It’s never too early to get children interested in the environment.  I challenge you to get started today!

Why America’s Public Libraries Will Never Die

Daedalus Books and Music helped us build a respectable home library for our toddlers. It specialized in selling leftovers — unsold copies sold by the publisher at discounted prices.  We would spend a couple of hours on Saturday browsing the shelves for deeply discounted “good reads.”  I was sad. . . no . . . I was ticked the day our neighborhood branch closed seven years ago.  And when Daedalus closed its last standing branch last month, it was clear that the digital age had scored again.  Even the 4th richest county in America couldn’t keep my favorite bookstore open.

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Nowadays we go to the public library just about every week.  Ours looks and smells like an ordinary library.  Quiet? Check. Books? Check. Cheerful librarians that are way too eager to help? Check.  But the tiny library, always busy, appears to be enjoying celebrity status.  It is surviving in a space that bookstores have failed. Here’s why:

Libraries keep retail hours, too.

All of our county’s libraries are open from 10am to 9pm on weekdays and are also open on Saturday and Sunday.  We can usually get to the stacks whenever the mood strikes.  We could wait until the weekend; but we don’t have to.

People still read books.

There is a strong camp of people who haven’t signed on to the digital trend.  They enjoy the feel and smell of books. When they want to know something, they to turn to books just as naturally as others turn to Google. They collect autographed books and display them like trophies.  They don’t ever lend books to friends (not books they care to see again, anyway). Instead they usher their friends towards  (you guessed it) the library.

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Children will always judge.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is not advice followed by children.  Kids absolutely judge books by their covers, their art work, and their titles. The page count and the print size all figures into the selection process.  This is much easier to do in a library than on a website. It’s even easier to do after a passionate, highly energetic librarian has read it to them in a dramatic voice.

Libraries also have something for people who don’t read.

People who prefer to listen to books can borrow audio books or CDs in person or use an app such as Libby, Overdrive and Hoopla to borrow audio books, music, movies, and TV free with a library card.

Libraries have awesome adult programs.

Whereas bookstores are in the business of selling products, libraries are in the business of providing information.  Participation in library programming has been steadily increasing ,according to the Public Library Association’s 2017 Public Library Data Service Report .

Our county’s system has a “Do it Yourself” (DIY) education center to learn about anything ranging from repair and maintenance to adventure. The Center features a borrowing collection of small tools for home projects, such as bicycle repair kits, DIY classes and a “mess friendly” classroom and workspace for children, teens, and adults.  The library organizes free  book clubs, lectures, book signings, music lessons, foreign language classes, SAT prep classes — classroom style and online.


The children’s programs are even more awesome.

The library organizes children’s scavenger hunts, story hours, art classes, chemistry experiments, coding/STEM classes, homework clubs, sewing workshops, and more. Parents’ tax dollars allow children to explore their interests through the library’s programs without making a costly financial commitment.

Libraries are embracing technology.

A click will reserve and transfer books to your closest branch through inter-library loan. Avoid long lines with self-check out. Receive receipts and reminders by email.

Reserve books, sign up for activities and book meeting rooms through a dedicated account.  Use the library’s computers if you don’t have a device but need internet access.  Some libraries even offer automatic renewals.  No late fees. No questions asked.

Some libraries are destinations.

They have historical significance, amazing architecture or are just plain beautiful.  Make a point to tour New York City’s Schwarzman Library or the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. during your next visit.


So what are you waiting on?  Go to the library. What you find will surprise you.


Who Has the Body? How the Black Funeral Home Ensures our Dignity in Death

Just like the good memories we celebrate, we can also find inspiration in loss and tragedy.  Guest writer, Brittany Jones, Esq reminds us of the special role that Black funeral homes play in maintaining our dignity in death as she remembers the victims of the Atlanta Child Murders of the early 80s.

Atlanta has experienced some frigid temperatures and ice over the past two days. This time at home has allowed me to listen to the podcast Atlanta Monster, about the missing and murdered Black children in Atlanta during the early 80s, and to reflect on the passing of Edwin Hawkins as well as the dignity of Black mourning ensured by the Black church and the rapidly disappearing Black-owned funeral home.

The “end” of the Atlanta Child Murders predated my move to Atlanta by about 5 years; but I can recall the fear I felt and flashes of what I can assume was the 1985 film, The Atlanta Child Murders, and Monica Kaufman’s voice asking “Do you know where your children are?” I can’t say I recall the exact moment I realized the life of a missing Black child is not treated with the same level of importance as the life of a missing white child, but listening to Atlanta Monster touched this sore spot in my soul.

Patrick Baltazar, the first child mentioned on the podcast, was killed at age 11. When Master Baltazar’s brother recounted the battle he fought to hold a second homegoing service at a church in their Louisiana hometown, I began to weep. In 1981, a white church refused to hold Master Baltazar’s funeral service because he was Black. Even in mourning the death of a loved one, a child at that, his family had to fight, had to persist in a way that makes one weary to the bone. Master Baltazar made history in 1981 and not as a murder victim. He made history when he integrated the white church which ultimately relented and held his homegoing service.

Master Baltazar’s body was found, asphyxiated, in DeKalb County, Georgia. DeKalb County, Georgia is where I learned Black people could excel in any profession including as doctors, lawyers, teachers, college professors, principals, mayors of major cities and radio personalities. Mike Roberts and Carol Blackmon narrated my elementary school mornings on V-103. I could tell not just the time of the morning, but also the day of the week, when the first few bars of Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day” crescendo-ed through my brother’s clock radio. 7 am on Friday. Black radio was still an institution in Atlanta with its pulse on the community.

When I heard Edwin Hawkins had passed, I immediately thought of those suburban Atlanta, elementary school Friday mornings and those questions Black folk carefully, respectfully pose when someone transitions. One will hear variations of “How’d s/he pass?” and “Who has the body?” Who has the body? Who has the body?

I thought back to being an expectant mother aware of the almost 300% higher maternal mortality rate for Black women in the USA putting my affairs in order prior to giving birth. When I wondered how would people answer “Who has the body” if I was on the wrong side of the statistics before, during or after giving birth. I recalled an article in The Atlantic, “The Disappearance of a Distinctively Black Way to Mourn,” that put into words what I experienced my entire life: the culture, practice and ritual of Black funerals. The setting up. The wake. The ride to the church from the home house of the deceased past significant locations in his/her life. The call and response of Guide Me, O Thy Great Jehovah in that distinct middle Georgia deep gutteral sound that embodies millennia of Black grief. The grave side service. The route from the graveside has to be different than the one you took to the graveside. The repast. The healing we find in food, fellowship and reflection.

The importance of the Black church and funeral traditions meant I could not leave the answer to chance. My estate plan *requires* the answer to the question “Who has the body” to be the name of a Black-owned funeral home. It’s my attempt to ensure I maintain a level of dignity in death that has been denied to Black people for far too long. Just recently Newsweek thought it wise to accompany a tweet with a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his casket. People rushed to blame social media and its effects on social mores, but this particular indignity isn’t new to us.

I recall Piers Morgan’s wonderment and awe during Whitney Houston’s homegoing service. I recall the pride I felt during Michael Jackson’s homegoing service. The Jacksons may have become Jehovah’s Witnesses who customarily have a 15 or 30 minute talk, but the elements of a southern Black funeral were unmistakable.

Our African American tradition, our culture has been a salve on systemically inflicted wounds. It’s ours to protect and continue. Weeping may endure for a night…..

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Brittany Jones, Esq is a practicing attorney in the Atlanta Georgia, specializing in health law and policy.  She loves a good music concert, spending time with her beautiful daughter and shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.