Tag Archives: curriculum

The End as a New Beginning, Ask an Expert it’s Cheaper, or What Goes Around Keeps Coming Around Until It Doesn’t.

9 Sep

Abu Dhabi Blog 7-13-2014 through 9-9-14

Playlist Tool–Aenima, Red Hot Chili Peppers—Transcending, Smashing Pumpkins—Quiet, Pepper—FKARND, Bob Marley & the Wailers—Buffalo Soldier, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Everybody Ona Move, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Stay Human (All the Freaky People), Cody ChestnuTT—Can We Teach Each Other, Lyrics Born—Callin’ Out, Lupe Fiasco—Kick, Push, Marvin Gaye—Ain’t That Peculiar, The Beatnuts—The Trouble Is…, Rage Against the Machine—Wake Up, The White Stripes—Rag and Bone, Bob Marley—Redemption Song, The Roots—The Next Movement, Golden Era & R.A. The Rugged Man—On the Block, Clutch—Cyborg Bette, 30 Seconds to Mars—Hunter, Novel & Talib Kweli—They Don’t Flow, John Mayer—On the Way Home, Michael Franti & Spearhead—See You in the Light, Colin Hay—I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You, The Steepwater Band—Dance Me a Number, 30 Seconds to Mars R-Evolve

Excuse me, too busy, you’re writing a tragedy
These mess-ups
You bubble-wrap
When you’ve no idea what you’re like

So, let go,Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
So, let go,Just get in
Oh, it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

 Frou Frou – Let Go

We cannot selectively numb…”

Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort”

Brene Brown

Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?…To see one’s predicament clearly is a first step toward going beyond it…With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges—the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”

Eckhart Tolle A New Earth

Gosh! Hello! Wow…so much going on I just…I just don’t know where to start. This journey of life, which I am learning is not separate from me, continues to teach and astound me everyday. As you can see from the quotes above…ok, go back, I know you ignored them. (Hello!? They’re contextually important). So, yes, after looking at the quotes you can see that I have been bouncing around in my head and my heart quite a bit recently. Part of what I’m learning is that I can allow myself to bounce, or I can start and stop it. My brain is me, I am my brain. There is no separate entity. The conversation in your head is you, both voices…you. More than two? Let someone know, please 🙂 .

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare...as I said, a work in progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare…as I said, a work in progress.

So, this time of year is always tough for me. I go through separation anxiety when school is out. I miss the students, the teachers, the work, the PD…all of it. I’ve been particularly anxious the last few weeks. Not sleeping, grinding my teeth, headaches, bouncing knees, sadness…all of it. It is particularly hard here because most of our students left around June 19, the rest a week later. So, it’s the slowest grind of an end to the year, EVER!

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who's been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh...some PD stuff, too.

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who’s been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh…some PD stuff, too.

I’m still working on being authentic…all the time. It’s not easy. For years, my internal conversation was going on while I was talking and deciding. I was constantly editing my words to make solutions as easy as possible—even, and especially, if it made more work for me. (By the way, if you do that too, I gently suggest you stop. It is a recipe for resentment and anger at yourself.) What I have realized is when you do that, you don’t give the other person the credit and respect they deserve. We hold our tongues sometimes thinking we are protecting others, or just thinking for them, all the while robbing them of an authentic conversation and learning experience.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

A phrase has been haunting me lately, so I’m going to release it and see where it goes. Wanna come along? Really? Thank you, I’m glad…the phrase changes around for me, inverts, makes me furrow my brow, is sometimes declarative, sometime interrogative, sometimes exclamatory…always cautionary in tone. So, I’m having a hard time deciding which form to present it, so we’ll play with it a bit. Here it is…incompletely…

The price of being your own expert.

Or, what is the price of being your own expert? Or, Can you afford to be your own expert? Or, Being your own expert can be tragically expensive. Or, well, I think you get it. The more I toss this around, the more I see its applications. Whether it be physical, intellectual, or spiritual, seeking an expert costs much less than the possible price you might pay trying to be your own expert. Think about the dieters and everyday gym-goers who work hard, on their own, and never get the results they are looking for, or possibly, get injured. Wouldn’t some expert advice be helpful? Think about the frustration of learning Calculus without someone to interpret. What about the struggles in your own head and heart? The incessant questions and internal discussions that seem to repeat without solutions, or strategies for handling them. Or, ever try to tile a bathroom for the first time? In all of these cases, there are experts. Previously, I was my own expert in all things. When I finally slunk out of that ego-created mire, I was very near breakdown…actually, I was there. Not because I couldn’t believe what had happened, but because I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know, how much I had avoided living, how much I cut myself out of, how afraid of not knowing I was, how much I needed…and how much everyone else had to offer…if I had just been open to it.

Less this...

Less this…

...more this.

…more this.

I was preaching love, togetherness, understanding, giving…all of it. BUT, I wasn’t participating, authentically. I wasn’t giving all of me; and that robbed me of some genuine, authentic, opportunities. (Cue the Frou Frou song above, and Watch the Brene Brown TED talk on Vulnerability…she has a moment in her research where she realizes, she can’t get authentic results, she can’t live the complete life she is looking for because she’s too busy trying to control it as an experiment. Life is no experiment, it is here, today, now. Don’t study it, BE it.). This reminds me of Carlos Castaneda’s books, which were a gift to me from an amazing friend when I graduated many years ago. Castaneda wants to learn the the way of the Shaman, see the visions, experience all of it. The shaman tells him to go away. You either Live it, or you’ll never understand it. In other words, to understand the Shaman, you have to live as the Shaman. (By the way, I was way too immature to get Castaneda back then. I just thought they were “cool”. Little did I know, I could have learned from them a long time ago. Thank you, Doc Coffey)

Created all on its own.

Created all on its own.

I’m not going into word origins and roots; I’m sure you see how being an expert requires experience. Anything else, and you’re an observer, a reviewer; a commentator.

However, I think we have to be cautious with the word “expert”. I believe an expert, in all of the scenarios above, is someone on a journey. I don’t think expertise is a goal or the final level or an end point. It is a level of a certain mastery, but the expert is still traveling, still growing, still learning, adding to that body of expert-ness.

Here’s the hardest part about all of this. Now, when people come to my office and ask a question or need an explanation, I have to take a breath, and sometime say three words I thought would disappear from my lexicon as an adult. “I don’t know.” In fact, I have never said it more in my life than I have in the last year. Aside from the language difficulties, I am in a new school, with new practices, and a totally different culture. I mean school culture, not arts and customs culture. Things just run differently here…and sometimes they don’t run, at all. In the West we spend a lot of time learning strategic planning and communication flow. They have that here, as well. But it’s quite different. A strategic plan was created 5 years ago…for the whole country. So, how does a school of 900 boys in an old-fashioned small town fit into that strategy? It doesn’t. That’s my job. How do we do that? I don’t know…yet. (Yes, I read Carol Dweck.)



Fast Forward through an amazing summer with my girls and friends and family to the beginning of Year Two in Abu Dhabi. The Dhabi! Get your T-shirts. (The Dhabi on the front, Mafee Mushkala on the back.)




Home, as well. See Chicago?


The North Shore of Chicago. They changed flight pattern while I was away. Now, we get to see this! Cool!

SO! Here we are. A new school year, Mistah Lee is excited and anxious to get started. I love the anticipation and the promise of every new school year. After last year, and the amazing effort of our staff, I came back with super high expectations and an almost PollyAnna-ic (I make up words~deal!) attitude.

They're heee-eeerrrre...

They’re heee-eeerrrre…

To be honest, it seems I forgot how things go here. My pace? Totally irrelevant, and attempting to impose it only leads to frustration. After everything I learned and wrote about last year, I find myself frustrated and going through some of the same emotions as last year. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and our school won’t change in a year. You’d think I would have learned that by now. Not the case.

In my next life, I want to be an architect...or a rock star...or an actor...hey? How many do we get?

In my next life, I want to be an architect…or a rock star…or an actor…hey? How many do we get?

I LOVE turnaround schools…hard cases, tough students, and supporting teachers who have become frustrated. I figured after all the success from last year, we’d just pick right up where we left off. Most of us did, however, we came back to black mold in classrooms, broken doors and windows, 90% of classrooms with no internet, missing teachers, extended vacations by some staff, and 2/3 of our population brand new to our school of 900. Cue inner critical voice: Hey Dummy, this is what you asked for…remember?

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don't exist here...Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by 'dere...yes, that's real.

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don’t exist here…Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by ‘dere…yes, that’s real.

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole...and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole…and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

The lesson for me continues…and I am grateful. Regardless of my new found, yet infrequent, ability to “let go” of things, I still find myself gnashing my teeth, painfully tense through my neck and shoulders, and frequently giving away my piece (peace) of mind. Guess how much good that is doing me. Go ahead, guess…Exactly! None. This is my life. My ability to stay present and grateful is challenged by the choices I make and still I victimize myself through blame and self-anger at situations I cannot control. I heard myself today say, “If they’d just let me take over…” For what? Then what? More stress, less strategy, even less sleep. Slow learner, I know. That’s ok. I will get it when I get it…ya know? Sa?

Night Putting...you know, putting at night.

Night Putting…you know, putting at night.

Let me tell why I love the beginning of a new school year. Everything is fresh. The kids are excited (despite their complaints), the teachers’ hearts are renewed and hopeful, and the opportunity for impact on a community is Brobdingnagian. So, teach smeach, I say. Spend time getting to know the students. Notice every darn one of them. Create the loving and warm classroom and school that burns into their hearts and minds so they have an unforgettable experience. Let’s see each other smile, dance, share, and engage. Sometimes, as adults in schools, we forget the students are watching. We get short with each other when things aren’t going as we expected. They see this. We create the environment. They react to it and absorb it, and become it. There are many things to be frustrated about right now, but we have to hide our discontent from them. Certainly, it’s not in them. It’s in us. When educators get upset it’s because our job is in our hearts. When it isn’t going well, we get down because we care. However, those are adult issues. We don’t have to shield children from emotions. In fact, we shouldn’t. We should be mindful of the source of our frustrations, take inventory of why we’re upset, and take responsibility for it. Yes, it is frustrating to have no ability to copy or print when you’re setting up. Can we control it? Can we change it? If so, how? If not, now what?

Our teachers are resourceful. The "bulletin boards are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a staple gun, some use mounting board. They are forced to think outside---nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative...and amazing.

Our teachers are resourceful. The “bulletin boards” are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a heavy duty staple gun, some use mounting board (all of which they buy out of pocket). They are forced to think outside—nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative…and amazing.

By the way…this is for me. I am writing to remind me, that my ego creates negativity when I allow it. In fact, the more I feed it negativity, the more it craves. Negativity is a dangerous addiction. In a previous position I would read an old Native American tale to my teenagers. Yes, a child’s story, but they liked it. It is about the good wolf and the bad wolf that can live inside of us. We can choose what we feed it. It will grow no matter what. So we have to be mindful of what we feed it, always aware that it is hungry. Simple. True.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla's wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks...no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)...oh, and pasta.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla’s wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks…no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)…oh, and pasta.

The setting at the wedding.

The setting at the wedding.

What’s my point? Yeah, Lee, what IS my point? Be. Here. Now. Yes, you’ve seen/heard/read this from me before. I have to constantly remind myself of it. Today. Today is pretty amazing. Despite the 6 seriously wailing 5-7 year olds (just today), despite the un-ready school, despite the lack of a common language, despite the many lacks we are dealing with, we have 900 bundles of potential, and, we have each other. Cliche? Maybe, but look at it. Think about it. Look at the power available in all the hearts and minds around us. I am 7700 miles from where I grew up and I have learned that people everywhere need each other. There are struggles everywhere and when we look at each other and share authentically, we connect, we create, we change, and we improve. Today, I will feed my good wolf. I will accept. I will remain vulnerable. I will see the expertise in everyone. I am human, and I am grateful.

The Word according to Bob…

One Love! One Heart!

Let’s get together and feel all right!




The blogtorial; Self-definition; and the Monk with Sweaty Palms

11 Apr

This blog has been written and deleted and edited and written and edited and deleted. (It was not written in one sitting as I like to do, so to you chronology people, Let It Go…it’s a blog…and it’s a bit long. No quiz this month.) Needless to say, I was “stuck”. But as Robert Pirsig wrote,

“If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then it might be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas”

― Robert M. PirsigZen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Songs that influenced this work–Michael Franti & Spearhead-Thank you, Deftones-Around the Fur, The Smiths-What She Said, Middle Class Rut-Aunt Betty, Jack Johnson-Staple It Together, John Mayer-Dear Marie, Wax-Rosana, Killswitch Engage-Daylight Dies, The Beastie Boys-Nonstop Disco Powerpack, Clutch-The Wolfman Kindly Requests, Mother Love Bone-Stargazer, Cody ChestnuTT-Everybody’s Brother, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Everyone Deserves Music, Nine Inch Nails-Down In It, The Steepwater Band-Back to the Bottle, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell-Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Rage Against the Machine-Killing in the Name, Smashing Pumpkins-Day Dream, Dave Matthews Band-#34, Tool-Message to Harry Manback, Ice Cube-Integration, Red Hot Chilipeppers-Pea, Deftones-Lifter, Soundgarden-Pretty Noose, The Sword-To Take the Black, The White Stripes-St. Andrew, Smashing Pumpkins-Crush, Ice Cube-When Will They Shoot, Quicksand-Transparent, Freddy Jones Band-Into the Wind, Cody ChestnuTT Enough of Nothing, Freddy Jones Band-She Said, Freddy Jones Band-Wonder, Taking Back Sunday-Set Phasers to Stun, The Smiths-Hand in Glove, Crash Kings-All Along, Marvin Gaye-Inner City Blues, The White Stripes-Conquest, Tool-Third Eye, Dave Matthews Band-Dancing Nancies, Incubus-Consequence, 30 Seconds to Mars-R-Evolve, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Listener Supported, Black Label society-Destruction Overdrive, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Love, Why did you go away

Hi!…um…How are you? This is a bit awkward, huh? We haven’t shared this space in a while. Truthfully, this space is changing. We all are. I’ve been thinking about this blog, and this place (The Dhabi), and you, and writing, and school, and friends, and family, and children, and growth, and fear, and love, and loss…hey, it’s been a long time. I think a lot.

To be totally honest, I’ve been sitting at this computer for hours, full of those thoughts, and full of hesitation…and this is as far as I’ve traveled. How much should one reveal? What is my purpose with this blog? Am I filling a role or am I being me, the true me, without ego, without pretense, without speaking words I think you’d want to hear. See, I want to relate the real me. I can’t do that if I label myself as any one of me societal roles. In terms of the blog, I just want to be Lee. I want to write from that perspective, Lee–human being.  Sounds easy…nu-uh.

Also, I’d like to entertain, show you the sights, share some of my thoughts and the miracles that occur in everyday life. They do ya know…(sidebar—have you seen “Into the Wild”? No? Wow, see it! I’ve seen it a few times and I cry at the strangest times. Tonight, I turned it on right at the section about gaining wisdom, about getting out of your comfort zone, about how anyone can learn from anyone…and I do everyday. That, my friends, is the kind of everyday miracle I am talking about.) I am getting comfortable here, so I need to stretch it a bit.

Remember “The Real World” on MTV? Is it still on? Anyway, the opening intro said it was a show about how strangers are forced together and what happens when people stop being polite and start being real…or something like that. Well, we were raised to be real polite, in fact, to be polite-r than most (yes, I make up words…what, is this your first blog?). Another sidebar—my father is asleep in my guest room right now. Love that he’s returned to the Middle East after almost 40 years. I love having him here. Your relationship as a child changes without notice until major life changes create separation or some kind of defined change. We’ve had a few. Since the loss of my younger brother in 2008, this has been a big change for both of us. I am his namesake, and his only son, and I live 7500 miles away…not easy, even for a tough guy like him. He arrived the day before his 77th birthday…wanna see?

Dad and I on his 77th in front of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. To think, He's almost twice the age of this country--still looks good, too! Just ask him ;)

Dad and me on his 77th in front of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. To think, He’s almost twice the age of this country–still looks good, too! Just ask him 😉

Dad's birthday meal with Aziz and Ahmed at a swanky Emirati restaurant in the Dubai Mall. Great food and great company!

Dad’s birthday meal with Aziz and Ahmed at a swanky Emirati restaurant in the Dubai Mall. Great food and great company! They give you cologne and essential oils to freshen up at the end of the meal. I smell Oud!

So, back to the real world. Work has become interesting. I LOVE what I do, and I am lucky to work with some really hardworking people…but Dorothy, we ain’t in Kansas, anymore (American colloquialism for my international reader). Life just works at a different speed here. The reform we told we were taking part in is a bit different than described. In fact, it’s way more challenging. In my interview, I asked if they had “turnaround” schools…I like a school with a strong heart that is looking for a change. Well, I got one. The people and the kids are great. They want the change, but “this is how we always do it” has prevailed for so long that the options don’t appear. The bottom line is, schools are people. Parents want what ‘s best, kids want to learn, teachers want to share their art, and administrators…well, that’s our mission, to make all that happen. All I have to do is keep those things in mind, everyday, through the discipline, the illnesses of staff and students, the 752 accountability measures (give or take a hundred), the standardized testing, and now, through the language barrier…with your students, with your teachers, with your admin team, with your parents, and with the community. Ever seen Arabic!? At least with French or Spanish, you can guess…nu-uh, not happening here. You know what, though? I freakin’ love it!

This is "the yard" before the storm, uh school day. I stand in front of this everyday. So much potential in this space. One has to see the possibilities, the opportunities for growth; lives change here, everyday. So cool!

This is “the yard” before the storm, uh, school day. I stand in front of this everyday. So much potential in this space. One has to see the possibilities, the opportunities for growth; lives change here, everyday. So cool!

So, yes, I’ve had to have some hard conversations with fellow admins, teachers, and superiors. All challenging, all uncomfortable, all growth experiences. They are teaching me, everyday. For that, I am grateful.

We are required to do a minimum number of hours of Professional Development every week. This year the accountability police are on it. Our school is out in the sticks, uh dunes, and there is a belief that “central office” never checks on the schools “off island” (out of the city)…that’s us. We’re so off island that the sign to our school is under a sand drift. ( I wanted to say it has Jed Clampett pickin’ a banjo and sayin’ “atta way”, but that reference might be too narrow.) Thus, many believe we won’t get visited. Well, the #2 man in charge showed up the second week of school and made the whole place nervous. Now, there is a new number 1, a female (YES, Sistahs makin’ waves!) and she has vowed to visit all the schools. So, I stress…grinding teeth, headaches, you know, stress. Here’s why: We are a special community and our culture is not the same as the culture in the city, yet the expectations are the same. So, that is the challenge. Meet the city numbers with rural kids on a scale set without consideration of our statistical past. Sound familiar? Yep, it happens here, too.

So, that’s all boring to most of you. I’m a total EduNerd, and I love that stuff. However, I am WAAAY behind, so let’s look at some pictures! K? MmmmmK!

Green Day Assembly. Look at the little dudes dressed as fruit! The don't eat it, but they love the costumes.

Green Day Assembly. Look at the little dudes dressed as fruit! They don’t eat it, but they love the costumes. I sometimes carry grapes around at lunch and offer them to the boys. They give me the “Gas Face”! 3rd Bass fans, ya feel me?

Overhead of boys assembling for “Green Day”. No, not the band, the day! It’s a celebration of eating healthy and staying active. Apparently, we were supposed to wear green that day. The two little ones in the foreground didn’t get the memo and had to sit out…yeah, there was no memo. There never is. We don’t have a school calendar. I hear other schools do. It’s on my to-do list.

For when you're driving through a vacuum in space.

For when you’re driving through a vacuum in space.

One might call this “overkill”. Not here, more lights, more better!

The boys love sharing their culture. Prior to the picture they parted and made me sit with them. Imagine 900 Dennis the Menaces...in Kandooras.

The boys love sharing their culture. Prior to the picture they parted and made me sit with them. Imagine 900 Dennis the Menaces…in Kandooras.

This is me hanging with the boys watching a rehearsal. Here’s an idea…let’s give them swords and heavy iron toy guns. The kids in the distance are following one boy who is chanting, from memory, for about 10 minutes. Impressive.

An amazing camping location about 2 hours from Abu Dhabi, in Fujeirah. That's Snoopy (Island) taking a nap.

An amazing camping location about 2 hours from Abu Dhabi, in Fujeirah. That’s Snoopy (Island) taking a nap.

The campsite before everyone showed up. Add about 12 more people and 8 countries of origin. Lots of charades and trivial pursuit and health food and juice and water.  Kinda.

The campsite before everyone showed up. Add about 12 more people and 8 countries of origin. Lots of charades and trivial pursuit and health food and juice and water. Kinda.

There are signs everywhere. It took me years to recognize and accept them. I've always preached love, but I had a hard time with deserving it. I do. So, do you. The signs are there if your heart is open.

There are signs everywhere. It took me years to recognize and accept them. I’ve always preached love, but I had a hard time with deserving it. I do. So, do you. The signs are there if your heart is open.

Signs. We are just visiting.

Signs. We are just visiting.

These are pathways the water takes to get back to the ocean.

These are pathways the water takes to get back to the ocean.

I love this picture. See the established pathways? That is how your brain works. On this particular day, the majority of the water will run down the larger, more established pathways. Your brain does that with problem solving and other decision making tasks. It gets accustomed to thinking through something the same way, over and over. However, these pathways don’t have to be permanent. In fact, I’m quite sure after high tide these pathways will change. So? Well, this is what we do in education. Students come in with established thought pathways and it is our job to help them explore other pathways of thought. If we continue to think the same way and use the same shortcuts, then we neglect creativity. Look at all the potential for other thought processes here. Our children need options for thought, not shortcuts to answers. The world requires creative minds.

If Smoke-flavored bacon is made over a campfire and infused with smoke, is it then double-smoked and twice as good? Yes, yes it is. Bacon good.

If Smoke-flavored bacon is made over a campfire and infused with smoke, is it then double-smoked and twice as good? Yes, yes it is. Bacon good.


The hairpin turn at the Yas Marina F1 track (they call it a "circuit" here). On Tuesdays you can run, walk, or bike it. Google it, it's cool

The hairpin turn at the Yas Marina F1 track (they call it a “circuit” here). On Tuesdays you can run, walk, or bike it. Google it, it’s cool


Crepuscular rays. Cool.

Crepuscular rays. Cool.

Spelling optional here.

Spelling optional here.

This is a rather morbid traffic safety demonstration presented by the students. Of course, they all cheer the crazy driver and the crash. I'm not sure this program is effective. Google traffic accidents in the UAE. Gruesome.

This is a rather morbid traffic safety demonstration presented by the students. Of course, they all cheer the crazy driver and the crash. I’m not sure this program is effective. Google traffic accidents in the UAE. Gruesome.

This is one of the most impressive graphic organizers I've ever seen. Plus, if you've ever heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson, then you know I LOVE concentric circles! What? You've never heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson!? Spice up your life, my friend!

This is one of the most impressive graphic organizers I’ve ever seen. Plus, if you’ve ever heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson, then you know I LOVE concentric circles! What? You’ve never heard my lecture on Emily Dickinson!? Spice up your life, my friend!


Movie Night at Sky Tower. A laptop and a projector (or, "data show") and Troy. Who's dreamier? Bana or Pitt? (No feet comments, please. I rarely trip over them...any more.)

Movie Night at Sky Tower. A laptop and a projector (or, “data show”) and Troy. Who’s dreamier? Bana or Pitt? (No feet comments, please. I rarely trip over them…anymore.)


Waves of clouds over the city.

Waves of clouds over the city.

Insanely gaudy lighting fixtures--YES! Cincinnati Fashion--not so much.

Insanely gaudy lighting fixtures–YES! Cincinnati Fashion–not so much.

I was invited to join a monthly pot luck dinner club. Last month was comfort food. This is my baked Eggplant Parmesan.

I was invited to join a monthly pot luck dinner club. Last month was comfort food. This is my baked Eggplant Parmesan.

So, the dinner club reminded me of the roles we play. While I am very proud to be an administrator or a father or a son or someone who cooks, none of these roles define me. I’ve been struggling with that lately. Who am I? How do I define me? This topic confuses many of us. What I’ve learned is I should not spend time creating conceptual definitions of who I am. How can one person carry all that around everywhere? These definitions get in the way of “me”, of self. They get in the way of being present. I spent many years not being present; trying to keep up with who I thought you wanted to talk to. A maddening practice. All of those titles are egoic. I’m trying to get away from those loaded definitions and just be…just be. So, it’s ok to not know. The hard part is remembering to clear away those titles and let me be present for every encounter. Confusion is a gathering of thoughts that aren’t your own. I find it interesting that many of Confucius’ aphorisms are about simplicity, and oneness…not confusing, at all. (All from Eggplant Parm–hey, I’m hungry.)

Uh, who doesn't want to hang out here?

Uh, who doesn’t want to hang out here?

I wonder what they sell? (Also, Houston Oilers fans, ever wondered what happened to Billy Johnson? Here's his store.)

I wonder what they sell? (Also, Houston Oilers fans, ever wondered what happened to Billy Johnson? Here’s his store.)

A really pregnant camel...for 12 months! "Get it out! Get it out, now!"

A really pregnant camel…for 12 months! “Get it out! Get it out, now!”

This just came to me during a seminar. Doctoral thesis idea.

This just came to me during a seminar. Doctoral thesis idea. (yes, my handwriting stinks–get over it.)

So, this graphic just kinda came to me. I believe this is what we do to gifted kids in schools. They are particularly under-served during the middle years. First, we have to agree on what “gifted” means. I am not getting into that with you…right now. The idea is in its infancy; I’m just not ready to develop the whole thing, yet.

His brother's place, One Kind of Burger, didn't so well. Nearby is Hot Burger. HIS brother's place, Cold Burger, did not fare well, either.

His brother’s place, One Kind of Burger, didn’t do well. Nearby is Hot Burger. HIS brother’s place, Cold Burger, did not fare well, either. (That’s Salon, not a Saloon–there are Saloons for Men every 50 meters here.)

See the Wonka-vator? It goes up a whole two stories! Don't be surprised.

See the Wonka-vator? It goes up a whole two stories! Don’t be surprised.

This is a Gorilla made entirely from wire hangars. I think I know why he's angry.

This is a Gorilla made entirely from wire hangers. I think I know why he’s angry. (Enter your “Mommie Dearest” line here…)

On your left is THE Mark C. Thompson, guru, business consultant to some dudes named Jobs, Gates, Branson...to name a few. The other guy? Photobomb.

On your left is THE Mark C. Thompson, guru, business consultant to some dudes named Jobs, Gates, Branson…to name a few. The other guy? Photobomb.

So, yes, I met him. It was an amazing evening. I floated all the way home. It is no secret I love what these guys do. I read Dan Pink, Dan Gilbert, the Heaths, Spencer Johnson, Jon Gordon, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Rob Bell, all of them. I like what they do, and I’d love to do it one day. I am not ready. I have the desire, but not the experience or readiness, yet.

The Monk with Sweaty Palms

Kasan, a Zen teacher and monk, was to officiate at a funeral of a famous nobleman. As he stood there waiting for the governor of the province and other lords and ladies to arrive, he noticed that the palms of his hands were sweaty.

The next day he called his disciples together and confessed he was not yet ready to be a true teacher. He explained to them that he still lacked the sameness of bearing before all human beings, whether beggar or king. 

He was still unable to look through social roles and conceptual identities and see the sameness of being in every human. He then left and become the pupil of another master. The returned to his former disciples eight years later, enlightened.

– A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I am a pupil.

The pupil at wonder.

The pupil at wonder.

Thank you for sticking it out to the end. As I said hours ago when you started reading this, I was stuck for a while. I thought that meant I couldn’t think. Rather, “stuckness” is a good thing. It is a singular focus and requires action.

So, I have spent a lot of time searching…for many things. What a mistake. When you search for love, do you find it? When you search for happiness, do you find it? When you search for yourself, do you find it? No, at least, not for me. All of these things come when you’re ready. When you are you, not a role, not a title, not a job, not a state of mind. I will be trying to strip away those things that are ego-created and ego-craved, and just be me. You see, we are not our ego. We are under it, or beyond it, but we have to step back and see ourselves…new to me. Thank you for giving me that.

Peace and love to you all,


Take a Watauqua with me, Unfortunate is the new inspiration for change, or Any kind of Yankee in Sheikh Zayed’s Majlis

29 Jan

Playlist–Beastie Boys-Groove Holmes, Jane’s Addiction-Strays, Gin Blossoms-Mrs. Rita, Soundgarden-Eyelid’s Mouth, Third-Eye Blind-Semi-Charmed Life, The Police-Message in a Bottle, Bill Withers-Grandma’s Hands, Michael Franti & Spearhead-East to the West, The Skies We Built-Girls with Accents, Fuel-Mary Pretends, Talib Kweli-On My Way, Jack Johnson-Never Know, System of a Down-Highway Song, The The-August & September, Otis Clay-Since I’ve Been Loving You, Quicksand-Dine Alone, Deftones-Rx Queen

The playlist is actually in reverse order…and quite diverse. Try emptying your i-Whatever and re-sync-ing…you get a cool new mix. (Older readers please disregard, or call a whippersnapper)

My shadow’s
Shedding skin, and
I’ve been picking
Scabs again.
I’m down,
Digging through,
My old muscles,
Looking for a clue.
I’ve been crawling on my belly,
Clearing out what could’ve been.
I’ve been wallowing in my own confused,
And insecure delusions;
For a piece to cross me over,
Or a word to guide me in.
I wanna feel the changes coming down.
I wanna know what I’ve been hiding in!
My shadow!
Change is coming through my shadow.
My shadow’s shedding skin…Tool 46 & 2

Watauqua—a somewhat philosophical, and oft times meandering, discussion with one’s self while walking great distances. Not to be confused with Chatauqua, which, again, might be philosophical. See Robert Pirsig—word made up by me! Lee…’cause I’ll do that! That’s how I roll! Dangerously makin’ up words! Yeah!

Metamorphosis, evolution, enlightenment…call it what you like, change is everywhere, it is inevitable, and sorry to say, YOU are not in control of it. For years, I thought I was. The only real change I am in charge of, is mine. If you want to influence change, you can. If you want to help people change, you can. If you want to join in a change, you can. If you want to impose change…you are in for a rough one. There is a hard road there. Impose, fight, yell, scream, push, and muscle a change and then come to the realization that you may have changed nothing you planned on changing, but yourself. You see, it’s better to embrace and embody, and em-something else (for stylistic repetition points), change if you really want to make change. (Not the dollars and sense kind, smart—).

Anyhoo, here I am in this massive change place. The country is 42 years old. I am older than it! That’s cray cray (ask a younger person), and there is so much changing here that you can literally see it happening…everywhere!

I recently posted some pics from our campsite. At about 4:30am and going until about noon, 777s fly in full of people about every 20 minutes. The volume of people coming here is staggering. Those coming here for work already have a job, and most of them are here to help with come kind of change.

A serene scene upon waking up and peering out of my tent. A "wow" moment.

A serene scene upon waking up and peering out of my tent. A “wow” moment.

You know what? Before I forget…the next time you see something intricate or beautiful or unique or awesome (the non-Jeff Spiccoli version of the word), stop, look at it and just say “Wow”. Don’t name it, don’t be an expert, don’t smartphone google it, just look at it and say “Wow!” You’ll be glad you did. Or, you’ll hate it. Who knows…until you try.

The tide is out and these little fellas are racing for their lives.

The tide is out and these little fellas are racing for their lives.

Yes, I'm sappy. Love is a beautiful thing. This little left turn maker showed me.

Yes, I’m sappy. Love is a beautiful thing. This little left turn maker showed me.



Again, what’s the point? I don’t know. I do know this. I have learned so much over the last year and a half, and I can’t explain what life has taught me since I’ve been in Dhabi (dropping the “the”…yeah Facebook! You feel me!–ummm, again for the less social media experienced, it’s not THE Facebook.)

So, come on a walk with me for a look at change…as I see it. Those of you considering major life changes like moving 7700 miles away to work in education when there are jobs down the street, stay-tuned…I’ll explain why you’re about to embark on the craziest, coolest journey you’ve ever imagined (Gee, I hope it’s that good, anyway.)

Before we begin, take off those Birkenstocks! It ain’t that kind of walk! We’re in the concrete jungle today. Also, you’ll notice that I don’t take pictures of people. I wish I could, I came upon these three Pakistani guys all standing in the Pakistani squat (google it-amazing balance and flexibility), and they were stoic with rich dark skin and jet black hair and beards, and this look of content on their faces. It was touching, but no picture. Most people here are modest, and will oblige, but these are my neighbors, not people on exhibit, so I feel strange…though, maybe one day. As for taking pictures of the amazing colors of women and their clothes, and their varying levels of cover…nu-uh, not happenin’…I like my freedom, and publishing pictures of strangers who are women…yeah, illegal. There are thousand of expat women of all exotic kinds, but not worth the risk. The city is very metropolitan, colorful, and beautiful…let’s look.

Here is the building, and the surrounding structures on the island where I live. I’m told the island was natural, but I walk the “coast of it almost everyday, and most of it is framed by gigantic concrete blocks placed perfectly together, forming a ring around the island. The blocks are a perfect path for walking or running, however, they are joined by big Wendell Davis career-ending seams, so one must watch where one is going. (Like that reference Bears fans!? Da Bearssss!)

Sky Tower!  My home.

Sky Tower! My home.

View from the "coast" of Reem Island.

View from the “coast” of Reem Island. My building is the tallest on the left. The Gate Towers is next door, very cool.

View across canal to Maryah Island. Apparently, they didn't dig the channel deep enough. That wall of black is the bank and you can see the water left on the bottom.

View across canal to Maryah Island. Apparently, they didn’t dig the channel deep enough. That wall of black is the bank and you can see the water left on the bottom.

The Cleveland Clinc. A beautiful building. Google it.

The Cleveland Clinc. A beautiful building. Google it.

So, I thought these were millions of water drops, but they were too big. Bent over and snapped a pic...cat paws! Freaked!

So, I thought these were millions of water drops, but they were too big. Bent over and snapped a pic…cat paws! Freaked!

Here are some examples of the old and the new, and just how quickly the change is happening here.

Typical.Old Middle Eastern meets new Middle Eastern.

Typical.Old Middle Eastern meets new Middle Eastern.

This ornate old building is next to...

This ornate old building is near …

...this shiny green glass and chrome beast.

…this shiny green glass and chrome beast.

Bad perspective on my part. The beige building is half a block closer to me. The small base and wider upper structure is typical of old school Middle Eastern.

Bad perspective on my part. The beige building is half a block closer to me. The small base and wider upper structure is typical of old school Middle Eastern.

It's a house...really. I need a better camera (that's not a phone) to show you the engraving. Machine probably, but not cheap!

It’s a house…really. I need a better camera (that’s not a phone) to show you the engraving. Machine probably, but not cheap!

All cell phone shops. A mile of them. Funny names...007, M5, Prince, Princess, Unity, Boss, King, Super, Deluxe, Best, and of course, Phone Phone Store.

All cell phone shops. A mile of them. Funny names…007, M5, Prince, Princess, Unity, Boss, King, Super, Deluxe, Best, and of course, Phone Phone Store.

So, yes, change doth occur…here, where you are, and in you. I think we all agree it’s a good thing, until it happens to us and “against our will”. A funny phrase. Really, your will wants change, it’s your ego that fears it. Recently, I posted something cool I read from Mastin Kipp, he wrote:

If life is confusing right now, if you feel like you don’t know what’s next, if you feel totally lost – this is a moment to celebrate! It means you are out beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone and that you are GROWING! You are expanding and you are starting to live a new kind of life that requires a new mindset – one of Faith that the future will be better than the past, because you will create it.

Comfort zones. Decide for yourself, are they positive or negative. I’m not interested in an argument about it, but the discussion could be interesting. Here’s an example from my recent life. This is something that would have never happened if I hadn’t moved to a TOTALLY foreign place.

My car broke down about a week ago. (No biggie, just a hose.) HOWEVER, the ONLY freakin’ way to get your car fixed in Dhabi (see how I did that) is to go to the armpit of the zit on the pimple that lives on the wart that formed on the parasite that is leeching life out of the armpit of a camel carcass drying and putrefying in the desert sun. Otherwise known as the industrial city of Mussafah. Now, I’ve been hard on Mussafah in the posts and on The Facebook (for my elders), and the mayor caught wind of it (only Allah knows how, the smell there has a color and it settles on you—ever buy gas station chicken, then walk out and still smell it? Yeah, like that, only NOT CHICKEN!). So, the Mayor asked me to talk nicely about the cultural and exciting things going on in Mussafah, like the Art Hub, an artist residence, instructional complex, and gallery, and the…uh, the, well, the Art Hub is nice. Not even caffeine pushing who–, uh escorts, Starbuck’s has a Mussafah store. There is one thing the Mayor has correct…there are lots of colors. In fact, I have heard those who eat there see many colors coming up from their stomachs shortly after eating…hey, Indian food is great, BUT DO NOT EAT IT if the raw meat is piled on a plate in the window next to an ashtray, a Styrofoam coffee cup, and the dry crusty elbow of one of 15 guys sweating and leaning on the counter in a restaurant the size of a phone booth! Sorry, Mayor, I calls it likes I sees it!

Isaac Hayes with a leaky hose...radiator...keep it clean.

Isaac Hayes with a leaky hose…radiator…keep it clean…old, dead plate, no worries.

SO, one must go there to get a car repaired. It is an industrial city, so that’s the place. In my old life, I would have been pissed, and stompy stompy, and life is unfair, and can you believe what I have to go through…all of that. Why? For what? Does it fix my car? No, it does not.

So, I called the guy I bought my car from (a Jordanian who worked with autistic kids, but needed more money, so he fixes and restores Jaguars—sad statement folks) because he gave me a FREE 6 month warranty on EVERYTHING on the car. (Grand Prize Auto in Mussafah—see him!) He sends a flatbed tow truck. Amir, the Syrian truck owner picks me and Isaac Hayes (that’s the car’s name—it’s triple black and very smooth-duh! What else would you name it? Barry White if it was an SUV) up and I ride to Mussafah with him. We had a nice talk. We both have daughters. We both miss them, and we both wants what’s best for them. All of that in about 50 words each.

It’s interesting to make conversation when you don’t have the same language. You learn very quickly what is essential to your statement. As humans we strive to communicate. As Americans we get frustrated…for no good reason. Everyone wants to communicate, we have no monopoly on language. We are all human, let’s communicate…kumbayah, sing it!…you get me, I know you do. In fact, I fancied myself a patient guy, always, but I think it was for selfish reasons. Now, I’m patient because it’s out of my hands. I don’t control the speed in which the world moves…and I’m glad.

So, Amir delivers me to the armpit of he–, uh Mussafah, but the garage is closed. It’s only 8:30 and nothing in open until 10,… “then maybe we to close by 12 to eat, then to relax, and maybe 3 we open, Insha’Allah…” That’s just the way it goes. Fight it all you want; you can’t impose change (oh yeah, stayin’ topical!).

So, I’m stuck in Mussafah and I have to get to work. I’m about 4 blocks off the main drag, otherwise known as Hellrace 2000, and there is no cab in sight. The road is lined with about 400 day laborers standing in front of various size trucks and heavy machinery. ALL of them in off white or light blue churidar, which are kind of like pajamas; loose fitting pants, and a long shirt over the top, and most in turbans or fez. Me? I’m in my school clothes…suit and tie. It really was a kodak moment (yes, I’m old), but I thought I better not.

This is day laborer street. Snapped in the afternoon, so most of them are working for the day. Imagine dump trucks, hauling trucks, cranes, front loaders, backhoes, bulldozer...all lining the street waiting for work. Add 400-500 men eager to work. Wow moment.

This is day laborer street. Snapped in the afternoon, so most of them are working for the day. Imagine dump trucks, hauling trucks, cranes, front loaders, backhoes, bulldozer…all lining the street waiting for work. Add 400-500 men eager to work. Wow moment.

I find a taxi on the curb of Hellrace 2000 street and he swoops in to pick me up. How he knew I needed a ride out of there…? Must have been psychic. He wasn’t, just Bangladeshi and familiar with what to expect in Mussafah at 8:30…and it isn’t a well-fed white guy in a tie and hair gel. I tell him where I’m going and he gives me the look everyone who says they work in Baniyas gets. The “no, really, WHERE do you WANT to go…” I shrug it off and he hits the gas. He takes one turn and I’m lost. In about 5 minutes I release an audible, “Nooooo waaaayyyyy!?”… “Ah, sawrrry sirrrr?” “Oh, me, sorry. You just showed me an amazing shortcut in and out of Mussafah! Thank you, Privantharumvarnidamjinmum!” “Welcome, sir.”

Now, I don’t want to preach too much, but once again. There is no such thing as luck. You know how I ever first learned about the UAE? In my leaner days I played indoor men’s club volleyball at Indiana University with a guy who played for the UAE team. He was always wearing the colors, so I finally asked him and he explained. I forgot his name…Mohammed, or Zayed, or Khalifa, I’m sure. Anyway, why did I meet him? What about my upbringing rich in cultural experience and practice at rolling an R and making the letters that sound like you’re clearing your throat? Why did I have that? Also, my car? Super minor break down, I meet Amir. Two dads, away from their daughters share a moment. Then, Privantharumvarnidamjinmum (thank you copy and paste) shows me a safer, quicker way which also ties together a few main roads for the map in my head. After school, one of the guys just happens to be going to Mussafah (probably to the Art Hub—NOT! Childish, I know), he walks by my office as I’m discussing it, and says, “Mr. Lee, Mussafah? Now? Yalla!” Let’s go! What timing!!! (Not luck, gifts, order out of what we perceive as chaos…Order…Higher…Power)

Me and Fouzy! He rocks! We work together. He is the kindest gentlest guy. Took me out of his way I contend, he says he was going there anyway.

Me and Fouzy! He rocks! We work together. He is the kindest gentlest guy. Took me out of his way I contend, he says he was going there anyway.

I get there, there and this is what I see.

"Yeah, I thought it was the radiator hose, Samir?" "Sir, no problem, sir. I make sure, just to check no beeg problem. Car ready 20 minutes." Really 40, but who cares. It was a good day...Cue the Ice Cube track!

“Yeah, I thought it was the radiator hose, Samir?” “Sir, no problem, sir. I make sure, just to check no beeg problem. Car ready 20 minutes.” Really 40, but who cares. It was a good day…Cue the Ice Cube track!

Of course, it’s before three and Samir is at nap time, or something, and his more ambitious brother, Other-mir, (not his real name, but funny) assures me they will fix it fast and that he is very angry with his brother for making me come to Mussafah. (No, they don’t live there…no one does…no one with internet, I hope.) I just happen to have my book with me, and I read this…”Through [fear, greed, and desire] you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.” (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth)

More is a bottomless hole that can never be filled. As I’m sitting in my suit, on an industrially dusty broken window unit air-conditioner in the afternoon desert sun and the wind of Mussafah adheres to me, and the incessant horns blare, and the trucks kick up more stink dust, I still find peace. What is there to be upset about? What do I need more of that I must have right now? What fear might be causing an anger reflex? Really, isn’t there a “wow” moment even here, in Mussafah, while my car is in pieces, and my mechanic’s brother is whisper screaming at him on the phone? Who am I that this is not acceptable for me? In fact, it is totally acceptable, and that thought is what calms us. Who I am is not my broken car, is not my dirty suit, is not me the administrator, is not me the golfer, is not me the guitar player, is not me the songwriter, is not even me the father. First, I am me, and I choose which of those extensions define me. They all do in parts, but when my ego makes decisions for me based on those extensions, then I have let me go and I’ve let ego take over. Identity is full of meaningless labels. Shoes do not make the man. I want to live my real life, not a conceptualized reality.

What does this have to do with living and working (notice the order) abroad? For me, this move is what it took to jostle me out of a conceptualized reality and into a real life. While there is plenty of glamor and glitz and fakery here, there is even more opportunity to meet cultures head on…no books or movies…smells, tastes, sounds, sights…first hand…real life. This may not be for everyone, but it is working thus far for me.

For those looking to come here and be educators, here are some things to think about…we were told you’re interested in hearing it. So…here goes.

This is NOT an English speaking country. MANY people speak it, but there is NO plan to EVER lose Arabic. Keep that in mind. Chances are, your students, and their parents, will speak very little English. So, screaming “sit down” or “come back” or “be quiet” or “no stab with pencil” or “use a turn signal” will fall on deaf ears. They won’t understand it…and turn signals are just here because they like colored lights…no function.

My School! Love it!

My School! Love it!

Think about your teaching life. What phrases/words do you use most? LEARN THEM IN ARABIC! Also, if you’re not good with names, try harder! Names are a source of pride, as the should be, and “Hey You” will not get respect. Get a technique. Most of our boys have two names because there are 10 others in class with the same first name. You probably told them you’re good in classroom management in the interview. Are you? Really? No, for real? Ok, now try it when NO ONE speaks English…or the names are Said, Saeed, Zayed, Saher, Saqer, Talal, Rashed (not Rasheeed, Rashid), and 5 Mohammeds. Also, do you really do project-based learning? Not once…all the time. That’s the idea here. MAKE YOUR PLANS NOW. Design some projects that can be adapted to any age, and to boys and/or girls. Keep in mind…no pigs, no dogs, and people should be covered. Modesty.

Al Bawadi crew rolls hard for Bus Duty!

Al Bawadi crew rolls hard for Bus Duty!

I don’t want to scare anyone because this is an amazing career choice, but keep in mind what they told you in the interview…the country is 42 years old; we have high schools older than that. They are trying on reform strategies like a wine-soaked bridezilla (with good intention), so your line about “flexibility” and your example that nailed it in the interview…yeah, remember that. Oh, accountability is real here. If you say you can do it, we’ll be expecting to see it. They also told you it’s a very “top-down” society here, and you probably said, “I’m cool with that.” Remember that, too. There are bosses. They are in charge. They are not unreasonable, but very few people, including your colleagues will jump on board your complain-o-train. If you hold on to a bad day or a bad event from the day, learn to let it go. If it can’t be changed, then let it go.

The expat teachers here take very good care of each other here. You can always vent with them…and you will. It’s natural. Remember, at the end of everyday, you came here to teach…and the point of every teaching life is the kids. They are coming to you to help them build an amazing nation. They have the resources and the personnel and they are interested in adding you to that list. How will you treat their children?

I love my EMTs, they all work really hard E-VER-Y-DAY, but everyday, or maybe later that evening as you’re walking through an immaculate and lushly landscaped canal-side park, or on the beach, or just sitting on your balcony as the warm desert air washes over you, you’ll find that bright or funny spot during the day, and you’ll go back tomorrow and do it again…because you love kids, because you love teaching, and because you love what you do for you…and this, here, in Dhabi, is what you do for you.



Random advice pic of the day...if your dryer lint has age lines in like a tree...then change it!

Random advice pic of the day…if your dryer lint has age lines in like a tree…then change it!

Back in the (Camel) saddle again, or You can never go home again, or Lessons from Freshman English

6 Jan

Abu Dhabi Blog!

Playlist–Michael Franti & Spearhead-Time to Go Home, Taking Back Sunday-A Decade Under the Influence, Rage Against the Machine-Bulls on Parade, 30 Seconds to Mars-The Fantasy, Billy Joel-Get It Right the First Time, Coheed & Cambria-The Hound (Of Blood and Rank), Tool-Faaip De Oaid, Rush-Limelight, Deftones-Knife, The Smiths-What Difference Does It Make?, Killswitch Engage-Break the Silence, Gary Clark Jr.-Don’t Owe You A Thang, Clutch-Unto the Breach, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell-You’re all I Need Tonight, Dave Matthews solo-Rhyme & Reason, The Police-Spirits in the Material World, Rage Against the Machine, Know Your Enemy, Buddy Guy-Stone Crazy, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Love Invincible, The The-Kingdom of Rain, Bad Brains-Babylon, Cloakroom-Breaking, Red Hot Chili Peppers-Brendan’s Death Song, Michael Franti & Spearhead-I know I’m Not Alone

Pretty cool. Look at the First and last song. Luck? Nope, something bigger. Enjoy!

1–Ummm, Hi. Yeah, it’s been a while. I’m back in the Dhabi after an interesting 3 weeks in the city of my birth. (Yo! MC! Mad love for the 219!) Actually this installment is more about home (and the concept of homes—oh and luck, and love, and loss, and the 5 stories ever written, and maybe some pics of me at work, if you’re really good) than it is about life in the Dhabi…because, really, life here is like life anywhere…anywhere that people break out down ski jackets and huge Irish sweaters, and ask you if “you’re ok in the cold” when it’s 61 degrees out. (Yeah, no kidding. Had that conversation about 15 times today…I’m thinking about you, and praying for you enduring the blizzard around Lake Michigan. Truthfully, I kinda miss it….easy to say, right? There is no “wind chill” here…more like “breezy intemperateness”.) As cliché as it all sounds, life anywhere is relative. My hometown is buried under snow and reeling from freezing temperatures, but it’s not  beyond a typical winter. My current home is experiencing unseasonable lows that my hometown people call Spring. Both peoples are cold, despite a 70 degree difference.

My lovely hometown

This is the ice pack and sand glaciers that form every winter on Lake Michigan--a short walk from my house.

This is the ice pack and sand glaciers that form every winter on Lake Michigan–a short walk from my house.

Actually it drizzled here today…SHUT THE STREETS DOWN! Kidding. Rain– maTarrr Say it…go ahead maTarrrrrrrr….rolling r’s are fun!

2–So, where to begin? I took some philosophy courses as a barefoot goatee-d Chris Cornell wannabe in college, and I once wrote a paper on Heraclitus and the Doctrine of Flux; a partial title for the work he did. In a really compact underdeveloped pistachio shell the idea is that everything is always changing, perceived or not, it is changing…thus, so are we. Often mis-attributed to ‘Clitus (yeah, we’re tight), is this quote, “man can never stand in the same river twice”. (Go ahead my mad-googlers, check away, but know that this river will change once you leave….and so will you, my friends, so will you.) Really, the quote is a rearrangement of what he said, but contextually accurate in terms of his meaning. The MacGuffin here (Hitchcock fans, you feel me) is the Heraclitus quote is kind of an entre to a quote I’ve always had a hard time with: “You can’t go home again” or “you can never go home again”. (The first is a Thomas Wolfe novel—read it.) Cheap Summary—in the novel, George Webber is turned away by his hometown (not gonna give away why) and (kinda) travels world and eventually rediscovers his love for his home. Honestly, there’s not too much of a parallel here, but it’s a good book.

The interesting thing for me is I get to do here what I did at home. The situation isn’t that different. When I tell people where I work, they get the spoiled milk smell face on…then shake their heads as if to say, “awww, I’m sorry.”

The reality, just like it was at home, is we have a talented group of teachers who have been told over and over that their school and their kids just won’t ever become something big. I totally disagree. Totally. I am grateful for the opportunity. I am thankful for the lesson that taught me I could do this. I am thankful for the lesson that let me see this as a change I needed. I am thankful for the lesson that made me step out of the river and re-enter, anew.

Look at these teachers work! Love it!

Rubrics are fun in every language!

Rubrics are fun in every language!



Khaled and I--doin' the interpreter dance!

Khaled and I–doin’ the interpreter dance!



Mr. Mohammed and I laying the smack down on the terror of Al Bawadi--Grade 6.

Mr. Mohammed and I laying the smack down on the terror of Al Bawadi–Grade 6.

A & A--I smell Oud!

A & A–I smell Oud!



So, these are my colleagues. This is my new home. I feel blessed to have two homes, and all the trimmings that go with the concept of “home”. I am also blessed to have stepped in many rivers and been changed by them all…ok, all this talk of flowing and rivers…who needs a break? I’ll be right back.

3—Ok, much better! Ya see, I never really agreed with the quote. I love my hometown. It is a great place to live, and there are great people there. Sure, people get down on it and say really negative things hiding behind fake names and monikers in the newspaper’s online comment section (really, N-D? Require authentication, at least), but Michigan City is truly beautiful and there is opportunity for the creative and the positive. So, I always thought, “…why can’t I go home if I leave?…things will be the same, I’ll find the same people in the same places, and we all will be comfortable, and…well, home…” While all of this is true, it took this life changing experience of moving to the Dhabi for me to really “get” it.

Yes, I went home. Yes, it was really nice…but it’s not the home that you can’t return to, it’s the you that isn’t returning home. Make sense?

All rivers continue to flow…your hometown, your new hometown, and most of all, you. You return home with the knowledge of how things are and you find comfort in your accurate perceptions. However, while your eyes see the same things your brain has added new sets of experiences and thus, the sorting, comparing, and re-filing begins. The simplest thing, like a trip to the grocery store (the exact same grocery store you rode to bouncing around without a car seat or seat belt in the sofa size back seat while you played catch) becomes a new learning experience. Suddenly, you hear yourself… “oh yeah, I forgot about that” (15 types of peanut butter) or “THIS is the tea section? (compared to the tea aisles). Everything is now tainted, or enhanced, depending on your outlook, by the time you spent away…flowing.

4–So, on to luck…in which I no longer believe. I now prefer grateful to lucky. “I am grateful” attributes to a sender, as a gift. Maybe the gift is a result of the work you’ve done; or maybe you believe the gift is from a power higher/larger/more incomprehensible than you. Or maybe the gift is a result of both. Did you see Nick Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon? You tube, my friends, youtube.

“I am lucky” occurs in a vacuum…and NOTHING occurs in a vacuum (this, I’m not smart enough to prove as the absence of a thing cannot prove the existence of another; but stay with me, please). You see, if you continue to attribute good fortune to luck, then you begin to believe you are a lucky person and you just deserve good things happening to you. Actually, you do deserve good things, but some of us might even get to the point of thinking good things will happen always—without something causing it. Let me warn you, my dear friends….bad idea. I was there. It just ain’t true. Bad things do happen (to anyone)…and there’s always a reason. (There’s a simplistic colloquial phrase for this, but it escapes me.) The hidden side effect of believing you are a “lucky” person is that you don’t attribute the positive things to who you are, and what you’ve done. You float along without belief…no belief in the value of you, and no belief in something greater than you…a very dangerous position, indeed. Dangerous, and lonely.

In grad school, I once had a “Community and the School” class. The whole semester hinged on a group project. Well, I lived over 3 hours and a time zone away from my group. We had to trust the others to do a great job on their portion….yeah right, right? Well, we had no time to rehearse the presentation and I was the anchor. I remember the frustration of watching my group bore the rest of the class. I was upset and frantic, and had to do something! Needless to say I hammed it up and they backed me up in the summary. When it was over, I thought, “well, that was a waste of time, that would never happen in the real world…” and I was happy to get the grade and get out. Of course, I have needed that exact experience more than a few times since. I wasn’t lucky or unlucky to have endured that; it was a gift. I am grateful, not lucky, to have had that experience.

Perception…60 degrees or -10…both cold, for different people… MC or the UAE, schools are shaped by community…hometown or current home, life is for living, not visiting, embrace it… “wax on wax off…paint the fence”, lucky lessons? I think not, Daniel-san. (Miyagi do Karate!)

5–One of my good friends reminds me of this Shakespearean quote all the time, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…” And Hamlet, he would know. (If you don’t know the story, go ahead watch the Mel Gibson one, I won’t tell) All things that happen are lessons…opportunities to learn. Our obstacle, of course, is us. When our life is disrupted with…well, life. We have a choice. Do we search for blame and anger and revenge, or do we search for the meaning of it. “Why me?” really isn’t a bad question. It’s the way you answer it that determines your growth. If you always step in camel poop (gotta stay topical), it’s not because you’re doomed or constantly being punished, it might be a lesson to pay more attention to the steps you’re taking.

(picture of camel poop omitted…you get it, right?)

If things are going well and you’re asking “why me”, then look at what you can learn from it. I was in a serious “why me” situation and it brought me here. I had to fight myself to accept that I still had a lot to learn about me, and that I wasn’t lucky or unlucky, but I was fortunate. Believe me, I still struggle with it, daily. I am 7700 miles from my daughters, and my heart is in repair. Imagine the anxiety and panic and fear and doom if the sun didn’t rise tomorrow…that might start to explain the void I feel in missing my daughters. Though what I do with those thoughts are up to me. Think about it, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…” Thinking is not the evil, our choice of thoughts is the evil. Go back to the camel poop. Try this you camel poop stepper-inners (oh, you get it, stop being a snob), “…hey this poop on my sandal is a good reminder to watch where I tread; not everything is clean and comfortable and good for me.” Yes, I’ve moved the example to a metaphor, I KNOW you saw it coming.

Sorry, if I wasn’t as humorous as you’d like. One reader told me I am getting too serious, and not as fun. This is me; it’s where I am right now, today. It’s been a strange month since we last shared…extreme ups and downs, and less resolve than I had hoped. Hugs are hard to find when you’re new in town, but all of this is a lesson in itself. (Cool side note; watching the Arab men around my school greet each other on the first day back was very touching, and genuine.)

Also cool is the practice of touching your heart after shaking hands and greeting. I love that! Try it. Touch your heart after you say hello or shake someone’s hand. It will change the greeting for you. Please, try it.

Life has given me many opportunities to absorb lessons I took for granted; suddenly it’s all coming together. Lucky? No, the seeming chaos of the universe organizes our lives and if we flow with it rather than stand and fight the current, then going home again isn’t so tough. In fact, with the right Mindset (read Carol Dweck, beeteedubs) going home (hometown or current home) again is like returning anew.

By the way…aren’t you wondering about the numbers? I’ve never done that before. Yes? You are? Really? Ok, here it is. There are only 5 stories ever written. They are:

  1. Man vs Nature
  2. Man vs. Society
  3. Man vs. Self
  4. Man vs. Supernatural
  5. Man vs Man

Go back…they correspond.

I have always been inspired by the story of the Phoenix. (Geez, that too? Go ahead, google it) I could never understand why it stuck in my head. Why did I need to know it? Why did it occupy so many dreams throughout my life? Luck or coincidence? No way, something way, way effin’ bigger. This Christmas, my dad called me The Phoenix in a card. It is the single greatest thing he has ever said to me. I love you, Dad.

Ugh! I thought I could hold it together for one darn blog!

Peace and Love and Thanks and Happy New Year,


Giving Thanks, The Blinged-out City, and Making faces in Parking Garages

30 Nov

Playlist: Michael Franti & Spearhead 11:59, John Legend Little Ghetto Boy, Coheed & Cambria Crossing the Frame, Crash Kings Six Foot Tall, Foo Fighters Breakout, The Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime, Bill Withers Lean on Me, Michael Franti & Spearhead Hey Now Now, Coheed & Cambria Radio Bye Bye, Pepper FKARND. Beastie Boys Futterman’s Rule, The Roots Do You Want More?, Deftones The Passenger, Radiohead Exit Music (For a Film), Tool Schism, Buddy Guy Give Me My Coat and Shoes, Jet Take It or Leave it.

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain, we all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Bill Withers – Lean On Me

And don’t let mistakes be so monumental
And don’t let your love be so confidential
And don’t let your mind be so darn judgmental
And please let your heart be more influential
Michael Franti – Hey Now Now

Go back and read those. C’mon, I know you scanned it. Read them…..did you say “Yeah” in agreement to yourself? I was on a walkabout today and these verses hit me VERY hard. Normally, I skip Lean on Me for a more soulful Withers song, but today, the day after Thanksgiving, the day after a really tough conversation from home, the first time in 45 years I have not been with blood family, today I needed someone to lean on. Those who know me well, know I am the post, you lean on me. I am happy to be that, but I forgot that I may need it, too. Life has a way of reminding you of these things. We all need someone to lean on eventually, and I have been very lucky over the past year to have many of you who have held me up. I got a little ahead of myself over the last few weeks. I had a bit too much of a strut, and I was feeling strong. Then, the Thanksgiving holiday hit me right in the gizzard (sorry, too easy, I know). The bottom line is, I miss my family…really, my families. That’s the beauty of growing old; life builds families around you (if you allow it), and those families provide strength when you feel weak.

The recruiters warned us we’d feel homesick, eventually. Well, it’s here. I have denied it, but once again, some things are out of our control, and as Michael Franti says, “And please let your heart be more influential”. You have to allow the feelings to come. I spent years burying them to prove that I’m tough. Sure, my students saw me get emotional when they fought each other, or some other injustice occurred, but I didn’t take time to examine how I felt. I was a raft springing tiny holes, and patching them up desperately so I wouldn’t have to admit that some maintenance was necessary. I’m not sure where else to go with this metaphor other than to say, I am allowing others to help with the holes, and for the first time in a long time, I see that we really do all need to lean on each other once in a while. It’s refreshing and relieving to accept.

Shall I lighten this up a bit? Here’s a sign that 7000+ miles from home, isn’t that far…

Well Driven!? Really?

Well Driven!? Really?

I was behind this truck for 3 consecutive red lights (at the same g-drned, frickin’-frackin-other bad wordin-intersection) in a town called Musaffah. No relation to the Lion King, but definitely the King of something…something horrible. What they’ve done is created industrial cities. So, if you need a mechanic, or a contractor, or heavy machinery, or anything that requires grease, smoke, loud noises, or anything that requires Lava Beaded Industrial soap, you go to an industrial city to get it. The problem is, EVERYONE needs that stuff in a city that is expanding like a waistband after Thanksgiving Dinner (sorry, had to). Abu Dhabi is adding thousands of people a day. You can’t get a visa without a job. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in labor here (’cause ain’t no locals pickin’ up a shovel-trust me) and while the pay and living quarters are abominable by western standards, it’s a better living than some are getting in India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. (By the way, the tragedy in the Philippines hit hard here. It was nice to see the relief efforts start almost immediately. This country is rich, but not selfish. I like that.) So, the industrial cities are filled with laborers literally flooding the streets, in cars, trucks, bicycles, on foot…everywhere. It’s also Used Car City, so I HAD to go there. Wanna see my new car? (cue the music, 50 Cent-P.I.M.P.)

Abu Dhabi-20131128-00434

The price was VERY nice, and the guy I bought it from will do all my service and specializes in jaguars. Much love to my main Jordanian, Samir!

Anyway, my place is really coming together nicely, but I’m not prepared to show it just yet. The walls are bare, but I’ll be home soon with an empty suitcase for art. So, no pictures, yet. What? You want a sneak peak? Ok…here.

Don't look at the reflection in the window...ugh, that didn't work.

Don’t look at the reflection in the window…ugh, that didn’t work.

Those who know me, know I’m a floor dweller. I love to be on the floor. So, I’m lovin’ the Majlis set against the window. Great for reading, or, well everything. I have a 10 foot couch, and I’m on the floor most of the time. Go figure.

Work is going well. I’ll be honest, it has taken some adjustment. The language barrier can slow things down. Also, everything here is patriarchal and top-down. Everything. I prefer to empower teachers and stakeholders to get involved and change according to what they need. We’ve had a few conversations like that with the staff. When I asked the Arabic staff about what they “believe” about our students and their potential you’d think I was speaking a foreign language—ahem, well, I kinda was, but I have an interpreter. Here he is…

Umm, I'm sorry Mr. Lee, did you just ask a group of Arabic men about their feelings?

Umm, I’m sorry Mr. Lee, did you just ask a group of Arabic men about their feelings?

LOVE this guy. Sometimes when I talk all feelings-ish to the teachers he looks at me like “…are you sure you want to say that?” Yes, I am. Regardless of the atmosphere, or culture, in order to learn kids have to feel safe. They must feel as if they can open their mouths and say something without being ridiculed or belittled. This will be my struggle here. Our school is 54 male teachers and 3 women. The women are westerners who wear full abaya and shayla (headscarf) and teach first grade. They have their own teachers lounge and they are awesome. We have excellent men teachers, as well, but men are men. We don’t talk feelings, we don’t discuss if we care for the kids, we don’t admit that we are teachers because of the pull in our heart. (Sorry for outing all you guys; it’s ok, they pretty much knew.) So, when I ask them about their feelings and beliefs about the boys, there’s a pause for translation, then the low grumble ensues. That’s how I know that Khaled said what I said. Eventually, our conversation has softened and I think the teachers are ready for change. Here’s me working with a group of them.

PD time is happy time with Mr. Lee!

PD time is happy time with Mr. Lee!

The guy in a tie is from Egypt (we have many Egyptians and Jordanians on staff). The fact that he is there and engaged is a minor triumph.  He’s a bit….um…gruff, yeah, gruff.  I tease him about it and he has no idea what I’m saying.  How many kittens have you hugged today Mr. Sayed? Two, fantastic…why does he anger smile at me?  (I have been holding on to this picture for fear of posting it. That shot of me looks EXACTLY like my brother, and I know a few of your hearts jumped. This will be hard for some. I’m glad you’re thinking about him. I often do).

Ya know how Professional Development is met with a grunt and a sigh in the states? Yeah, well it’s the same here…here’s how they offset that…

If you feed them, they will fake interest...

If you feed them, they will fake interest…

Nice spread, huh?

So, what else would you like to know? Here’s part of my everyday life…

I have to brace my arm against the passenger seat I'm going so fast...gee I hope the rental company doesn't have the internet.

I have to brace my arm against the passenger seat I’m going so fast…gee I hope the rental company doesn’t have the internet.


The object in this mirror are larg-uh, they already passed you! Step on it!

The objects in this mirror are larg-uh, they already passed you! Step on it!

It's really not dark, but these mega-buses drown out the sun.

It’s really not dark, but these mega-buses drown out the sun.

The first is the spiral from hell I must take to get in and out of my building. Actually, I’ve made it a game. Can I hold the wheel with my knee while texting and driving fast enough to make the 14 inch wheels on my Aveo squeal? Also, what bizarre face can I make at the oncoming traffic so they can get just a glimpse of something really freaky and change their day a bit? Going down is fun…how many spirals before I brake (is that a Frost poem?) is the game. The next pic is the sign on the sideview mirror in Arabic. It says, “Why are you looking at this, no one else here does, go faster ya tourist!” The third is a bit more grim. I live in an amazing building over looking the coastline and part of the gulf. Further out on the island in a not-so-well kept secret is a work camp, uh, labor housing, um, dorms for working people setting. There must be about 5000 people out there because everyday I am surrounded by these mega-buses packed with workers. Another fun game I play happens on the way to work. At a makeshift bus stop along the highway I take to work there is a place where the workers gather to catch a bus. The traffic whirs by at about 90mph. I honk at them everyday. It took about 4 days before they started waving back at me. Kinda fun. Hey, it’s a 35-45 minute drive to work, and I’m in an AVEO! Ya gotta do somethin’!

You may have heard that Dubai just earned the spot as the host to the 2020 World’s Fair. The first ever for the Middle East. What? You haven’t!? It wasn’t front page news for you? Not every digital traffic sign was converted to a congratulations message? People didn’t take to the streets dancing and shouting about it? You didn’t have a day of school canceled at 10pm the night before an already long weekend? Where have you been!? It’s huge news…in 2020.

Yeah, so we had Thursday off, and we also have Sunday and Monday off for National Day. Now, I love America, and I’m sure you do, too…but, and this may hurt for some, the way they do National Day here makes our 4th of July look like a lame practice run. Here the buildings are adorned in humongous flags, the kids have been wearing the colors of the country for weeks, the cars are decorated in flags, silk screens of the Sheiks, and “I LOVE UAE” hearts, and the lights, OH, the lights. Everything, everywhere is bling-ed out in sparkly lights. You have Google, google it! Here’s a smidgeon of the flavor…

YES, those are toy guns they are throwing into the air! So? Guns are patriotic, right?

YES, those are toy guns they are throwing into the air! Metal toy guns. So? Guns are patriotic, right?

By the way, these aren't even the good ones.

By the way, these aren’t even the good ones.


This has been up for a week. It’s a lighting and interior decorating store…a business that thrives on selling its wares through the windows. Interesting.

That light is the WHOLE FRONT OF A HOTEL lit up. "Ummm, front desk, my room is, uh, as bright as the sun! Can you turn them off...no? Uh, ok. Good night."

That light is the WHOLE FRONT OF A HOTEL lit up…from about a mile away. “Ummm, front desk, my room is, uh, as bright as the sun! Can you turn them off…no? Uh, ok. Good night.”

The little projects are just offerings the parents spend money on. I think they think we think the kids made them. Yeah,…a-no. Look at the Majlis set to scale…from a second grader. If he did that, the kid’s a genius, get him to architectural school NOW! He can’t tie his shoes, or aim anywhere near the toilet, or wash his hands for that matter, but he can use an exacto knife and sew. Who am I to judge?

Again, this does not do it justice. So, school will resume on Tuesday (Insha’Allah), and we will have a really short week. The scuttlebutt is that the kids won’t show up until Wednesday as they have gone on mini-vacations, and we’ll only have Wednesday and Thursday next week. That’s cool, as long as we get our PD in! Right, teachers? No limit for better, right? Anyway, I digress, sometimes my love for schools becomes distracting from my point…which I’m not sure I had, anyway.

Here are some random pics for those who wish I’d write less. (and probably aren’t reading anyway…which is cool, no judgment.)

Pretty. Big. Building.

Pretty. Big. Building.

The guy at the bottom of the frame did a well-being check on me. "Uh, yeah, what? No. I'm cool, it's good, wow, huh?"

The guy at the bottom of the frame did a well-being check on me. “Uh, yeah, what? No. I’m cool, it’s good, wow, huh?”

Hmmm, I haven't spent enough on this, I'll paint it...yeah, great idea!

Hmmm, I haven’t spent enough on this, I’ll paint it…yeah, great idea!

Butternut Squash and Saffron Risotto with a bit of goat cheese for added creaminess. They told me it was good, but they're really polite people.

Butternut Squash and Saffron Risotto with a bit of goat cheese for added creaminess. They told me it was good, but they’re really polite people.

The Burj Khalifa. I can’t even explain the size. I took that pic from about 400 yards away. It is amazing. Below it is a huge pond/lake (yes, man-made) that has a Bellagio-esque water show every half hour. The lights on the building sparkle in syc with the music. Very well thought out. The next is the INDOOR, yes, indoor waterfall at the Dubai Mall with the diving men sculptures. There’s something surreal about it. I literally was mesmerized and stood agape at it for about 5 minutes. (Of course, I am still mystified by mulching lawnmowers and their power of re-fertilization, too.) The next is a Rolls-Royce with a custom paint job…I don’t know, if you’re dating Natalie Portman, do you ask her to wear a prettier mask? The last is my contribution to an amazing Thanksgiving Dinner that helped me immensely.

It’s not easy being so far away from you…and it wasn’t easy when I left. We all have our stories here and we all support each other, as well. It’s interesting how the human spirit craves human spirit. To be obvious, we cannot survive in a vacuum. We need each other, and we need to know there is something in the universe watching over us and helping us handle…well, everything. On Thanksgiving, my plan was to cook for myself, sit at home with some fermented grapes, and be sad and glad. Instead, I was lifted up and had an amazing evening. I didn’t orchestrate that, heck I was trying to avoid it…but somehow, somewhere, someone or something, knew exactly what I needed. Life has cautioned, (hell, more like bludgeoned)  me about being the Master. It was a very hard lesson. Knowing everything is a very dangerous and completely foolish position. I am thankful for learning that. I am thankful to have my vulnerability restored. I am thankful for all of you, for my family, and my families. We can live amazing lives if we remain open…open hearts and open minds…open heart and open mind…repeat it to yourself…your words have power.

Love one another, please. Life is too short not to. 


Flexible, frantic, food, fashion, and men singing Journey into each other’s faces.

8 Oct

Playlist–Jack Johnson “Crying Shame”, Zero 7 “In the Waiting Line”, Wax “We Can’t All Be Heroes”, Cage the Elephant “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, Incubus “When It Comes”, Tool “46 & 2”, Jane’s Addiction “Mountain Song”, Rush “Working Man”, Rage Against the Machine “Bulls on Parade”, Agent Orange “Voices in the Night”, John Mayer “Who Says”


Say “Hi” or “Hello” out loud…now…go ahead, no matter where you are, do it. Why the fear? Did you look around, first? Isn’t it strange how very simple things become strange when we spend too much time in our heads? I’m learning this lesson everyday. It’s interesting being in a city where I know NO ONE! I’ve never had that before. It’s a bit freeing, yet a bit foreign (duh, Lee), as well. The beauty of building relationships with no prior knowledge is you get to be you, do your thing, and the only judge is you. Now, many of you might say, “I’ve always lived that way, Lee!” Really? Then ask yourself why it’s so strange to say “hi” out loud to your computer screen. What filter have you developed that automatically edits your behavior? (If you’re still reading and didn’t say it out loud, challenge yourself now…go ahead, you can do it…Hi, Lee…well Hi to you dear family and friends. I send you my love from the future—9 hours ahead—from….THE DHABI!) Sell the brand, people! Only three of you have repeated the words, do it now! THE DHABI…then pay me for my idea. T-shirts soon! They’ll say, “THE DHABI—Hurry up, and wait, you must be patient.”

Enough of the dreck (or Dweck—Carol, read her! “Mindset”, good stuff). SOOOOO, it’s been over a week and I have been busy. My blog notes are too long and totally random, so here we go…

Last blog I hinted about the candy displays here in the Dhabi, at the Hypermarket, remember? There are three huge aisles of sweets and junk food as you walk in, then two aisles of coolers of ice cream and treats on the way out…hmmm?

In the Gulf News last week there was an article about “Lifestyle Diseases” growing to epidemic proportions in the UAE. Mostly, they’re talking about obesity and diabetes. In the schools it’s evident. The kids eat bread and chocolate with Mountain Dew or Juice boxes for breakfast and lunch—yeah, yeah it’s Nutella, but remember Nutella was sued for claiming it has health benefits…SO not true. I was going to show you the teeth, or more like the gums of our students, but those who are reading this and have seen them are thanking me right now for not showing you. I was also going to show you the STICK, yes, the stick some use to clean their teeth…another bad idea. Seriously, 1st graders with rotted baby teeth. Not kidding. GIANT, beautiful almond-shaped, brown eyes, and their poor, awful mouths. Develop a chocolate tooth scrubbing chewing gum and you’ll be rich…(pay me for my idea, too!)

Then, I saw this….


Yeah, throw fake meat in a pita and you have McArabia…Ronald, are we that dumb? Uh…apparently.

Let’s talk about the beauty of the variety of people here…and food. Those of you who know me know I’m a bit of a foodie (which is a stupid phrase, but I’m going with it), and that I worked in restaurants most of my life. There are so many to enjoy here, lets have a look…


Yeah! So good. About 30 dollars, and yes, I ate it all, and my skin was shiny and radiant for a day. Umi is the restaurant. Not a fancy place, but good food. Also served to me was this…


How old are you if you remember this type of opener? I remember it well. Also interesting in this picture is the by-line behind the can. Karl-Heinz Ruminegge (the German footballer—soccer, people, soccer) is still in the game. Not playing, but as an executive. A double whammy blast from my past. (Any Chicago Sting fans will remember Karl-Heinz Granitza—google him, I don’t have this kind of time!)

Now, to confuse you….look at the pic below. What floor am I on?


If you said third floor, you are correct and incorrect. If you can count, you see three. If you need directions to a store, you count Ground, One, Two. Lee is on the Second Floor. Good to know when you’re starving and the info guy says the GIANT food court on the Second Floor and you feel like an idiot because you can’t find it…because it’s really the THIRD!

I went on boat cruise with some edu-types last week. It was fun, but OY!, the shop talk. What’s with us!? Can’t we leave it alone for a few hours…really, we can’t. It’s hard to explain to non-edu-types how much we love our job, even when it seems nearly impossible. Educators love their jobs, we take it personally.  Pics from the cruise…


That’s our vessel, with Al Reem Island (man-made) in the background. Eventually, I’ll be living there…Insha’Allah…get comfortable with that one…it’s a very pleasant reminder, that all things happen in God’s time. Your watch and calendar, and deadlines? Silly person, those are jsut so you don’t go crazy…and to ensure that sometimes, you do…


This one is interesting for a couple reasons. The undermount of the bridges are decorated with lights all year. Why? Why not! “We gots the money! Light it up!” Also interesting are the cranes in the background building another island for another sky scraper. It occurred to me today as I almost squashed underfoot some poor Filipino fellow in the Hypermarket, that maybe the reason they all seem to wander is that they are genuinely new here. There’s that many people flocking here, that everyday in the Hypermarket is the first day for about 1000 people…did I mention it’s HUGE?


Isn’t that beautiful? Sunset, and a million volts of electricity buzzing over your head…ahhh, nature. Interesting to note, we cruised for about two hours and never hit the open sea…not allowed in our little boat. Plenty of newly built marinas to cruise around, though.

Back to food and style


Tabouleh (like you don’t know that by now), hummus, baba ghanouj (sorry, my family, I can’t spell our name for it.), Marinated in yogurt Lamb with Saffron Rice (kinda—not impressed), and the “Super Deluxe Delicious Fruit Cocktail”, which was awesome…apple, banana, strawberry, watermelon, and avocado…really good.

Now, some fashion…


Yeah, SOLD OUT. Red Leather Living Room. Cue that special disco funk music, turn on the lava lamp, and chill, baby, just chill…Honestly, it seems to work here…and, oh, this is on sale at the Hypermarket…did I mention, it’s huge? I did. So! It is.

From the files of bat-shit crazy, I had to post this


Yes, that’s Al Pacino as Phil Spector…even though he looks like A bleached Bill Cosby circa 1974. I keep waiting for him to throw down some pop & lock. If you don’t know that…google it. Then learn it, then thank me later for the compliments you get on the dance floor. (By the way, the movie is terrible. Really bad, really, seriously, bad—go watch it!…isn’t that like smelling sour milk and asking someone else to try it so see for themselves? Strange humans)

More fashion…


Ummmm, yeah, remember I talked about how a sign about keeping your shorts on in the male sauna and steam room and jacuzzi would be nice…and that I learned that the embarrassing way?  Remember how I didn’t see a sign? Yeah, found it. Didn’t take a picture, but there are these. Complimentary men’s paper spa and locker room shorts. Yes, paper. Um, no, not happening.

More food!


Fried Naan, and spicey chutney stuffs, Corn Shorba (the soup) with a cornbread dumpling, and Jhinga Biryani cooked in a pot with a sweet potato and VERY spicey crust. So freakin’ good! If I EVER get a kitchen, I’m making it! In the meantime, I ate this tonight…


Zeee Spiceee Hypermerkeet Cheekin wiss zee Veggie-tubble birrrrrrryani rrrrrice carefully layered in Le Toooperrrr-warrre.

Last fashion pic, then some school stuff.


I was going to brag about my man, Pratha. He’s the little brown head balancing on the counter there. I say balancing, because if you know people from India, they shake their heads side to side rather than up and down for affirmative/positive reactions. Like I said, I WAS going to brag about how awesome his business is and how great he treats me… I mean, 6 shirts, dry cleaned and pressed for $4.90 cents? Nice! However, Pratha didn’t have my shirts tonight! Damn him!….just kidding. There are dry cleaners every 50 feet, it’s like Starbucks in the states; however, they all have tiny little storefronts. Which leads my super-brilliant mind to deduce that he sends them out, too. Which also makes me wonder, if it’s that cheap for me and the middle man, how much is the poor super-sweaty bloke that actually cleans the clothes making? Not much, I’d say…BUT, enough to leave his country to do it here. Let that float around the noggin for a while. Complain not westerners…life ain’t so bad.

was going to call this next one, Sunrise with Cranes as a not-so funny, dad-joke kinda way play on words, but I couldn’t snap a good one.


It’s tough to get a good pic in packed traffic, slouching because your head is rubbing the ceiling of your mini-mobile, and doing 85 miles per hour (yes, mom, 85mph…what? Everyone else is doing it! Un-huh! Yes, they are!).

In truth, I am inspired to take a pic every morning. The sun is so large, so orange and beautiful, as it rises above the mangroves each day. Then as you wind through the (man-made) coast, it hovers over Sheik Zayed Mosque (google it! 40,000 capacity, but something tells me from the way people drive here that they stuff about 100k in there), and you have to think…there is beauty everywhere, there is no one man, or group of people, creating this beauty, but it’s there every day, not random, not planned, but there, every day…one just has to be open to it.

One school pic before I go…


Yeah, made by third graders…un-huh, third graders…no, not their mom and dads, or nannies…third graders. Ask ’em, they’ll tell you. They made them. By the way, there is real glass in some of them…cut to size…and, the day after I took this pic, all of those creepy bald mini babies were staring at me. No pics on that, I didn’t want to capture their souls on my iphone…it has enough issues! Back to iOS 6!

So, Eid al-Adha is coming up next week. (Wikipedia, people! I can’t do everything for you. Discovery learning). It was supposed to start on Monday for schools, but the Sheik just declared Sunday off for everyone, too. Remember, my week starts on Sunday. So, we have 9 days off, and from what I hear, the families stretch it into a full two weeks. Should be interesting as we have a huge push to do continuous assessment of our students and we’re basically out of school for the next two weeks.

Speaking of…I had an interesting Monday. After getting a bit of a run around about where I’ll be living…(Roll your r’s if you haven’t figured that out yet) “Shuuuurrrrrrre, you move in theeees week”, then finding out the condo is full. “No problem, I tell them I turrrrrrrn of water and lights.., they go fast.” Then hearing nothing (with all due respect to Mohammed in housing; he’s going the extra mile, uh kilometer, for me) for two days, I returned to school around 11 to find out I had to presenta= a 90 minute workshop on the new assessment policy at 1:30. “Wh-What!?” Yeah, I was stunned. 55 educators, I’ve been there two weeks, I have to present on a policy I have barely read, with a translator, in two hours…fun! However, it went well, although, my boss told me I needed to smile more or the teachers will think I don’t like them. Hey, if that’s the only criticism, I’m good with it. Actually, this is a very prideful society marked by practiced humility…does that make sense? What I mean is, he told me “good job” twice afterwards, then told our big boss, I did a “great job”…I wasn’t expecting that. Men don’t really do that much.

Which brings up my last point. Men are much more affectionate here. The practice of shaking hands while rubbing noses and an air kiss is commonplace. Men holding hands, commonplace. Men talking into each others eyes, commonplace, and a sign of respect. Don’t confuse it with what I saw at the hotel bar last week…two totally loaded Scandinavians shouting, “Don’shtoop beleeeeevin’, hold on to zha feeeelin…” you know the rest. If you don’t, google Journey, but tell no one.

Interesting that comes up now, though. The cool thing about this new adventure is one has to believe in one’s self. I love what I do. I am here because of that love and dedication of over 20 years of my life to it. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared, that I had doubts about my ability to affect real change. Yes, I’ve done it before, but I felt I knew some people and that would help. I’m learning, that is wasn’t the people I know. It’s the things I’ve learned and held on to that give me the skill and ability to do my job. I didn’t believe that fully, until after that professional development session, and I believe it more and more each day. Many of you have told me that for years, but I wasn’t open to it. I’m open to it today. I’ve had great teachers, in all facets (a non-word, I should use “arenas”) of my life, and I thank you for it…I’m putting it all together and making something original…as I’ve always done, but seeing it that way and being happy with it…believing it…that’s new…cue the music… “Just a small town girl…” (Tell no one I referenced that song twice! They’ll kick me out of the Public Enemy fan club!)

Thanks for reading…really, thank you!



Fancy vs functional-views, blues, bucs, and bidets

17 Sep

September 16 & 17, 2013 

Music– 30 Seconds to Mars “From Yesterday”, The Roots “One Time”, Smashing Pumpkins “Mayonnaise”, The Beatles “Golden Slumbers”

 Hi! So, the last two days have been eventful! On Monday, I was informed at 3, that I had to pack up and move at 4. Yes, pack an apartment (no furniture, thankfully) to move into a sky-rise super fancy hotel. Sounds great, right!? Well, it’s a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Truthfully, I’ve been holding off on this blog because I really have no reason to complain, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I am now living (temporarily) at the Grand Millennium Al Wahda. It is everything the name suggests! Magnificent. Look!


That’s the view of the sunset from the rooftop open air pool on the 31st floor. There are bar stools in the pool (if you want a $9 dollar beer—can’t afford it right now), and a VERY attentive staff with towels who are CONSTANTLY squeegeeing the deck. (Yes, it’s a word—yeesh!) The room is beautiful and the staff is beyond polite. It’s listed as a 5-star hotel and I believe it—the bathroom has a bidet…with it’s own soap dish, and separate towel ring. You don’t get a pic of that. If you’re confused, google it.

The hotel is connected to the Al Wahda Mall, the biggest mall…ever! I wrote about it last week. However, today I found a store that answered my Abu Dhabi dreams! A shoe store that carried size 13! The salesman (from Bangladesh) smiled and said, “Why, of course sir, of course we have size 48!” I almost hugged the little guy, but when I showed my excitement and moved near to embrace him he cowered like Dracula at sunrise. (Vampires aren’t real–bloodsuckers are.)

Now, let’s not get crazy, they didn’t have my first choice, or my second, but I’m persistent, patient, and resilient. I will not be discouraged in my quest for casual brown shoes. Wanna see ’em? (Interesting, you just said “yes” in your brain—a few of you, out loud! Thanks for playing.) Here they are!


Yes, they’re Timberlands! I’m hip…right? Super-comfy and a little more dressy than I was looking for, but this new hotel requires it (no Birks allowed in the restaurants and bars), and I can wear them to school…when I finally get there, that is.

Speaking of, I’ll be at the Al Bawadi Model school for boys. It’s a mixed use school, which does not mean co-ed in this case, it means, there are two buildings; one elementary, one middle. I have both. I met one of my teachers today. He’s from Ireland and his name is Nile. He’s way too cute to post. I can’t have you stalking the poor guy. Al Bawadi school is in Baniyas East, which is about 20-30 minutes outside the city. The location allows me the choice of living in the city or between the city and Baniyas where I can get much more for my dollar in terms of living space. Sorta like being closer to Chicago, working in Chesterton, and paying Michigan City prices…hey, that’s kinda cool!

Speaking of living spaces, wanna see my former hotel? I’ll post a few pics so you don’t get too jealous. It was truly a one bedroom/1.5 bath with a full kitchen, washer/dryer (in ONE machine—crazy!), master bedroom and built-ins.

View upon walking in door. Half bath and couches.


 Living room and dining table…entry hallway from above pic is right of frame.



Kitchen… 😦 Miss my kitchen…note the washer/dryer combo…cool!





Master bedroom (huge built-ins not shown) Room is in state of panic packing…



Master Bath



No bidet, but really, can’t you do without one? Really? 

Farewell, LouLou Asfar Hotel Apartments. The drawback there was location. It was a serious trek in the hot, wet, wool blanket heat at night to find a restaurant, or groceries, or shopping. At the Grand Millennium, it’s all here…at my fingertips, and a few footsteps.

So, here’s my honest feeling. I’m here to live and work. My old hotel felt like living. I was shopping for food, doing laundry, ironing, and the breakfast buffet was modest, but we all knew each other there. Also, I had a bunch of food in my ‘fridge (which is a word NO ONE knows here), and only a mini-bar ‘fridge here. (Major mistake—I had a frozen steak from the old place. I read that the hotel service staffs are usually Indian (Hindu) and make very little money. You guessed it, I offered the guy who cleans my room the steak. He was so gracious he didn’t even call me on my ignorance. About 30 minutes later, I blushed and called myself an idiot…silly American)

The new place is so fancy I couldn’t figure out how to turn the room on. You just wave the card key in front of the door, then you slide it into the wall and the room powers on. Then, everything is powered by this…


Very cool, right!? Here’s the drawback. Everything around a five-star hotel is geared for people who stay at five-star hotels. I am not people who stay at five-star hotels. Sure, I know how to blend in, but I don’t have that kind of scratch. When the driver pulled up on moving day, we were behind a Bentley, a Porsche Cayenne S, and a Maybach…I said, “THAT is a nice car!” He said, “You no want that…it’s sheet!” That’s an argument I’m not interested in…needless to say, I let it go. (On a side note, the breakfast buffet here is like an All-Star episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Fanciest Breakfasts from EVERYWHERE in the World. Yes, it’s that good!)

One big draw to this place is the blues bar in the basement (Porter’s). It’s an Irish pub run by an Irish guy who loves the blues. Every pic is of Chicago blues greats…all the blues posters and “original” performance pics you’ve seen in every blues bar are in this place. The house band is English and about a third of its sets are blues. Call me a snob, but it ain’t the same thing we see in Chicago. It’s a very sterile, touristy, blues versions of very popular songs…perfect for the mixed expat crowd. The other issue is it’s basement bar and, holy yellow hat-wearing bears in the forest is it smoky! Wow! After an hour, my eyes were dry and creaky. Apparently, the rest of the world missed the memo…smoking is bad for you.

Anyway, back to work. I should be in my school next week. The middle school assignment is exciting because the reform movement here has not reached the high schools. So, I’ll be helping faculty implement the curriculum, and introducing new pedagogy…very cool! I love spending time in the classroom, and the only way to monitor and evaluate the change is to be out there in the schools with the teachers and students. That’s exactly what every administrator wants! I feel lucky for this opportunity, and I have many of you to thank for your guidance and advice. 

I sat with the teachers tonight as they received their contracts. One young teacher got her assignment in Al Ain, a metropolitan area about 90 minutes from here. She immediately started crying. She’s never been here. She’s never been there. How does she know she won’t absolutely love it? Expectations are dangerous things. You can set them, but getting emotional about an outcome you have no control over can lead to a pattern of disappointment. If you try to control your adventure, then you’re not having an adventure. Travel the road and adapt to its obstacles, don’t try to be the master of it; you’ll never enjoy the journey. Needless to say, I reserved this opinion. I don’t think she wanted to hear it. Frankly, it isn’t a lesson easily learned and if you don’t want to hear it, you won’t. I didn’t, for a long time. 

I’ve always wanted to feel like I’m changing the world. I believe this work is just that. This year, the Abu Dhabi schools have record enrollment. That’s a good problem. The people see what is happening, and they’re bringing they’re children to it. Exciting, isn’t it!

Say it with me…Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi! Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi! C’mon, even the cool kids…Abu Dhabi Al Bawadi!

Life. Live. Love. Lee