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It is true as many have said that have gone before me…I am busier now in retirement than I ever have been. One of the new things that I took on was, weekly piano lessons.  I had taken as a youth for several years, but like many, who also did due diligence to music lessons would say,  practice was not enjoyable and the recitals…let’s just say, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

This is my memory of lessons.  I was slotted for the first half hour when I got home from school. Sister 2 was second, Sister 3 was third.  We all had our turn, and my mom, a phenomenal piano player, insisted that we practice, no matter what was going on in the neighborhood or even what was going on in the plot of my current book.  She would always be singing in the kitchen making dinner.

She was such a happy mom…most of the time.

In the midst of me playing a wrong note…she would stop and yell out.  “Do that again.”  If I still hit it wrong she would cry out, “Can’t you hear it?  Again, try it again, Nancy!”  Sometimes I think, she would give up in exasperation and say, “Sister 2…you’re up, get ready, replace Nancy on the bench, quickly.”

Sister 2 was brilliant, always brilliant at most everything and would soothe my mother back into song.

So after two years and two recitals, I was done.  I begged to be done.  I begged for guitar.  I begged for a teacher that didn’t make me play up in front of five hundred people and prolific players.  My mom, of course said no to guitar, it wasn’t pure enough…and it definitely was hippy-like to have your children in guitar lessons in the sixties.  But finally she did say yes to giving up lessons.  I was better at swimming lessons anyway she might have noticed, and they were cheaper!

I did learn along the way, however, that music had the power to call up emotions that I couldn’t even explain back then. A chord combination or even specific notes strung together in a pattern would bring a tear of happiness at the sound.  And I also loved to sing.  Still to this day, I’m the one with my radio blasting, singing and driving, thinking my thoughts…the one that completely oblivious to those driving in cars next to me, oh, I hope you’re not judging me right now.

So in the long run, quitting became something that was a regret of sorts.  Back then I probably thought, I could wear down my mom and she would give in to the guitar.  I even saved green-stamps and purchased my guitar.  I don’t think it was a very good guitar and I tried teaching myself without any success, so that was also abandoned as well.

In retirement I had the opportunity to take piano again, no recital, no mom chiming in from the kitchen.  Only a husband who has been really supportive.  He could be chirping in, weighing in, but he lets me practice and practice and practice, only today I decide when and how long.  Sister 2 isn’t waiting in the wings either.  Dave, my husband, has played various instruments and the piano for most of his life.  He lets me come to him, when I am stuck and helps me figure things out.

I am also the beneficiary of a new way of teaching piano.  It is based on music theory, rhythm patterns and understanding major and minor keys.  The best part of this new method is playing the length of the keyboard and starting right away with both hands.  It is more whole to part instead of part to whole.  Is this starting to sound familiar?  My teacher always plays what I am learning, so I know what it supposed to sound like.  And she is also offers encouragement and asks about my struggle.

And again, just like becoming a good reader or writer it involves something excruciatingly important…and you know the next word…PRACTICE.  I didn’t even know that word could be so joyous.  Do any of us remember what it was like when we were learning to read, if it was a struggle, maybe.  But great things come in the struggle.  I didn’t know that back then, but I have learned it through the years,

In the struggle, the joy comes peeping through.

If you are in a struggle now, you will see light if you keep on pressing forward, look up and eventually find the right note.  I pray this prayer for you, in your New Year. And I will pray that same prayer for those in our classrooms, who for one reason or another, want to give up.

If there is no struggle there is no progress.

Frederick Douglass



fighting the war within

i sigh, i dream, i cry out

this life, this day greets in hardness,

am i willing, dare i whisper it 

the war i fight comes from

inner pools.

so liquid and deep,

it challenges me and angers

why is there not peace.

why do my words spew like daggers

and poisonous barbs.

i kneel down,

i look up,

to ask again for forgiveness 

my darkened heart,

my quick to judge thoughts,

my arrogant way

i talk to Him, he knows me…in those dark pools…he loves…always forgives…

by his stripes i am healed…renewed

PS Today i listen to a song…the lyrics by Switchfoot.  Before there can be ‘peace on earth’ i need to examine myself.  Listen for yourself.  This would be an excellent lyric to analyze with a group. Click here.

I am the war inside
I am the battle line
I am the rising tide
I am the war I fight
Eyes open, open wide
I can feel it like a crack in my spine
I can feel it like the back of my mind

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in the groove…this one is for the ‘girls’

Let us look to leaders in our history who created positive change!
Thank you for the opportunity to ‘slice’ weekly…join us!

The last few weeks I have felt back in the groove.  Two of my best friends from my literacy days and I have been asked to collaborate on a writing project for our former district.  We have integrated social studies units with a new ‘opinion writing’ unit. To put it mildly, we have been on fire in our collaborative writing sessions.  We bring different strengths to the table, but one thing we are all are pretty good at is seeing the big picture and what we want the student learning outcomes to be.  One of our main goals is to maximize our ‘shared reading’ time during our reading block to work with the non-fiction content.  Our teachers are simply so strapped for time, integration is absolutely is necessary.  We have created a product that hopefully they can replicate in their classrooms with other writing units.

We meshed quickly, even though we haven’t written together for a while.  One of us, is extremely organized and gets us moving in 3 different directions.  We go off looking at text or even videos that support the unit and then we come together to write. None of us do anything in long hand any longer unless we are working on a sentence that just isn’t coming together.  All of us love to break it down into steps especially looking at it from a ‘new teacher perspective’.   We believe it should look teacher friendly and have clarity.  All three of us love to research and easily sit together, deciding what would work best with the students.

All three of us have had years teaching in the grade levels that we are writing for and  have mentored teachers modeling in the classrooms during writing workshop. One thing we will never waver on is this:  We believe in gradual release with our whole hearts.  So in these units, teachers are asked to model, then guide in pairs and finally, students are asked to try on their own.

The writing process has been alive and present in this process.  We revise whole pieces in the flow of writing. We go back, read individually, come together to continue to revise.  Giving each other feedback is important, we often will pipe up, “that sounds funny”, or “they aren’t going to get that part”.   And we revise, revise, revise..  

Today we presented the unit to our literacy coaches, who will present it to grade level teams.  In the midst, of our presentation we still kept revising!

I am joyful to work with the ‘girls’.  I’ve loved planning and creating for so long that it just feels right.  But the bottom line is this:  we all still love our next generation, our learners who are learning how to brainstorm, draft along with using information from the text and to also, revise, revise, revise……….

This project reminded me again, of how important it is to teach our students how to collaborate.  Three brains are always better than my little one.


“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.”

Greg Anderson


our own narratives…

 Note before reading:  I have been immersed in reading about the Civil War for the last few weeks because two of my close literacy coaches and I are writing an integrated history and opinion writing unit for our former school district.  We all loved our jobs in our buildings and last May said goodbye to our the day- to-day teaching lives.  It is wonderful to be together doing something we all three love…writing teacher-friendly curriculum that will engage the students we continue to care about. After pouring myself into first hand accounts of slave diaries I still wonder why our country can’t seem to get this Civil Rights thing… right.

Last week after the verdict in Ferguson Missouri was read and destruction of a community began, many of us looked up and asked a myriad of questions…but the biggest one being,

Why, God, why?

Our friend on Carol who blogs with us, writes last week that her sons whom she adopted when they were in grade school looked at her, after the verdict.  In that moment she felt like she was the enemy.  If you haven’t read her post, please read it!  My heart seized when I read her lines.

I talk to the girls in my Bible study, and of course, everyone has something to say.  And today at church my pastor says,

We all have different narratives.

My take away from his thoughts were this:   the most important thing that we can do is to step into another person’s story to understand…and we need to understand each others stories.  Those of us who write story every week are very aware of our stories, but sometimes I wish we as American citizens, could all just collectively read and comment in kind ways on at least 3 people’s narratives…telling each other what we love about each other before we race to the judging people groups.

Have we learned anything from our history?  I say yes, violence and hatred simply is the worst option…it destroys the soul.

This is what I would tell all of you about my narrative.  So…most of you know…I was in Junior High in the late sixties…hmmm…so yay …I’m a baby boomer.  I’ve seen and felt our country in mourning and unrest.  And the narrative of my childhood was consistent.  It was of a father who believed and taught me that people of color matter. I count myself fortunate.  I know many who didn’t have a narrative like mine.   My dad very simply and humbly took a stand in our neighborhood.  In the 60’s, everyone in our town was white.  An African-American family moved into a house two doors down from my uncle and two blocks down from my family. People were extremely cruel…their house was vandalized, their children ignored.  Our families supported this family in friendship and love.  This is a part of me, this legacy will never be taken from me.

I also grew up at a camp, going every summer for one week.  There were many children that came to this camp from Chicago.  We all talked late into the night- every night, catching up on the year before.  One night one of our conversations went something like this,

Do you ever get to play outside after school?

Of course, every day, before dinner we go to the park or play ball …why don’t you?

Nope…too dangerous…at least every day someone gets killed in the street outside my house.


My friend’s narrative…very different than mine, I will never forget it.

I was home eating brownies with my best friend when a newsreel came across the screen on our small black and white.  “Martin Luther King Junior was killed today.”  I turned and looked at my best friend.  She simply stated,

Good another one is dead!

Her narrative…very different than mine, I will never forget it.

Newly married, Dave and I take a trip spring break to Florida.  We stop in the city where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I see the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.  I visualize.  I cry.  While there, we have dinner with family friends that live in the city.  We are eat lovely food that sat on a lovely white tablecloth.  The lady of the house, stabbed her meat with her fork looked at me and says,

We love our colored folks in Memphis, they can’t help that their brains are smaller than ours.

I gulp and exhale, looking the other way.

Her narrative also…very different than mine.  I will never forget it.

What can make a difference in this ‘hot mess’ that we still find ourself in?  I’m pretty sure it has something to do with reconciliation, education and merging our narratives. I think a massive Venn diagram is in order.

    …time to get to it everyone, time to get to it…

Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Romans 12:9 NLT

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King Jr.

Let us look to leaders in our history who created positive change!
Let us look to leaders in our history who created positive change!