Tag Archives: life

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!




Arrested! Or, Lost in the Hypermarket, or These are a few of my favorite Thinks, or, A SIGN WOULD BE NICE!

30 Sep

Music, The Clash “Lost in the Supermarket”, Radiohead “Paranoid Android”, Michael Franti & Spearhead “Oh My God”, John Mayer “In Repair”, Tool “Lipan Conjuring”, Coldplay “Don’t Panic”, Colin Hay “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”, The Roots “Proceed”, Michael Frnati & Spearhead “Pray for Grace”, The Roots “The Lighthouse”, A Perfect Circle “The Stranger”, Julie Andrews “These are a few of my favorite things” (Kidding, you know I don’t do show tunes).

Hi! I’m back! I’ve been very busy. Our School Improvement Plan has to be reformatted, edited, and a new Vision must be written…like you care…I’ve been busy. However, I’m here now, so, let’s talk.

My plan was to highlight the ordinary things we take for granted, and note how they’re different here, in The Dhabi! (Remember, when “The Dhabi” goes international and you hear that little shrimp Ryan Seacrest say it, you’ll know, you heard it here, first! The Dhabi! Yeah!–oh, by the way, Seacrest’s radio show plays on local radio here; some things are inescapable…death, taxes, and Ryan Seacrest!)

In my expose’ on the ordinary things in Abu Dhabi (meaning Many Gazelles—of which I haven’t seen one!), you will learn some strange things…so please enjoy.

The idea was to make the Abu Dhabi (the capital) an oasis, while making the roadways and neighborhoods blend with nature. So you have bridges on super highways like this.


Beautiful work, right? No doubt done by the ten thousand busloads of non-Emiratis that block my way to school every morning. Let’s just say, certain groups of people should now be allowed to drive. If you’ve ever driven in Michigan, you get me. They’re all here. Highways are lined in 4 lanes, but drive in 6. Most cars have scrapes on the sides.

Here’s what I see every morning


Sorry for the blur, I was shaking with excitement that traffic was clear. (Check the reflection on the hood of my bad ass whip, THE LANCER!)


This is my school! Cool, huh? More like a compound. All the schools are surrounded by 12-18 foot walls…not a bad idea, really. Also, just inside that gate is the security guard post. Once inside, I seek out the elixir of all educators…coffee. However, it’s a bit different here! Here’s how I get it, every morning, without a word, perfectly mixed, and with a smile.


Yes, coffee, tea, water, juice…He’s kinda shy, so I had to trick him.

Here’s some of the boys…


the little one in the distance to the right of frame with his head cocked is like Uncle Hector from Breaking Bad; he doesn’t say much, but when his bell rings, there’s trouble. They can wear those kandooras to school or each class is color-coded, as well. By the way, “Baniyas” the town where I work, is loosely translated to “countryside”, so the fact that these boys still have shoes on is a minor miracle…thank you very much! Wanna see a country-style home here? I don’t know why I ask, of course you do.



Ummm, yeah! Those are modest country houses. If you work for the Army or Police, you get a house and a car. If you graduate from high school, you get a stipend of about $100,000 to build a house. If your family has money—which, it does—you finance another half a mill to build a palace. However, the money, like the oil, won’t last forever…which is why we’re here.

How about more kids? Here’s tabor (tuh-boor, roll that r! Do it!), kinda like Reveille. We meet every morning and the whole school assembles for some half-hearted exercising, the singing of the national anthem, and prayer…did I mention it’s like 90 degrees at 7:30am?


Notice, picture taken from the shade…as if it matters… “Mistah Lee, why you so wet?” Read the note to self, that sarcasm and wit are not really appreciated here… “I’m kinda hot, Shokran.” Wow, that pic is bad…maybe it’s the heat. Did I mention…

Here’s a sign of the struggle we face. Tell me what’s wrong with this assignment?


Um, yeah..this 5th grader is hunched on the ground, booted from class, in utter brain clench…NO idea what to do. Let’s remember he’s an English learner. It’s hard to make out, but the words to find at the bottom are in lower case, the words in puzzle…all caps. Kid is totally lost. Once we worked through that, Ali Hassan Omar Ahmed Rababa Alsayed was really happy. (Not his real name, but close—almost everyone in the family is honored in a name here.)


So, I punch out…yes, EVERYONE punches in/out…and, after a day of that, here’s me.


Frazzled…so, back to normal things not so normal…an outlet


individual switch for each one. Cool! 220, lick it, I dare you!

Ping Pong, we have….


Ping Pong Premier League Championship with Ping Pong Arena and spectators…I’ve never been..it’s at the mall…

Homework…I have lots of it


My home office, 31st floor, by the pool…Just so you don’t think it’s all fun and games, I found the only self serve laundromat in a city of 1.7 million….


Actually, you put your clothes in and he’s so busy, he doesn’t wait for you if you should happen into the nearby Sheraton for a beer to put you stuff in the dryer. Did I mention he’s the only one? Why? The Emiratis do dry cleaning, or pick up and delivery, and everyone else does their own.

Speaking of the Sheraton, Happy hour.


EIGHT hours…really? Is that necessary?

Here’s a bank waiting room. Not different, except that when they need to deliver mail, they call your mobile, and then come find you…seriously…creepy.


So, the customer service guy let me keep this pic, but warned me strongly against another.

Here’s the house of a lucky young lady who’s getting married…she didn’t pick him, daddy did, so the party is huge…


There are no birthday celebrations for Emiratis, due to religious beliefs, so the wedding is rather stellar. I have two daughters…let’s go with birthdays. (Of which, my baby turns 16 this Thursday. To say it’s not hard to see and hug her is an understatement for which there is no superlative and I have nothing clever. I just love her so much…so, so much. Happy Birthday, my beautiful, brilliant girl! I love you everyday, with every breath, forever!)

Ok…gimme a second to recover.

So, fountains! There are many of them…here’s one


Gas station…except they’re all full service, and gas is about $2.10 a gallon, which would explain why the V8 Four wheel drives here rule the road….and the supercars.


Ever pump gas in full pants, shirt, and hat in 106 degree weather, and hope you get tipped? Stay in school kids, study hard.

Oh, guess what!? I found shoes!


Not funny. Guess who found guys to play basketball with and has no shoes for it? Yeah, me! Back to the Gepetto to get some shoes made, I guess.

So, the supermarket…the LULU HYPERMARKET! If ever there was a name for what this place is, HYPERMARKET is perfect. It is NEVER slow. Some people in an extreme hurry, some just wandering around in the air conditioning. Whole families of short people stopping right in front of you to gaze at candy bar displays. “They’re candy bars! Walk!”…kidding, you know me…never a word.

So, I started snapping pictures to show you how this place makes Walmart, no Sam’s Club/Costco (whatev!), look like a 7/11…and suddenly while jamming out and nodding my head to the music, I get tapped on the shoulder by a security guard.

“Uh, sorry, was I singing?”




“Ummmm, I don’t understand.”

“No pictures here!”, then he points to the huge sign above my head. A sign I’ve walked under a dozen times since I’ve been here. No pictures in the super-, uh, hypermarket. It turns out the ones I got were lame anyway. It’s huge, just believe it. It’s a hypermarket.

Here are the scissors in the school section


(10-inch blades…$9.53) Pray that the kid who buys these breaks his wrist hoisting them into his backpack in the morning, or maybe the nanny will…sorry, educator humor can be dark.

One cool thing at the hypermarket is the live pasta guy—so much better than dead pasta guy! He makes it to order right in front of you. So, I did four miles on the treadmill and tortured my hamstrings with kettle bell squats, so I thought I’d ruin it all with this…


Fed me for two days,….for $6, hey, it’s veggie? Nice!

From the “Oh, a sign would be nice” category. There’s a beautiful health club here. Weights, cardio, sauna, steam, jacuzzi, etc. However, it would be NICE to post that the sauna and steam room preferred dress is shorts…yeah, learned that the embarrassing way. No pic, ’nuff said.

Now, for the visually stimulated…hotel “Arabic appetizer plate”


And, of course, for the slow of wit…hey, it’s an Equal Opportunity Blog!


Doin’ Z.A. Butt! (You know you just sang that song in your head…and yes, “sang” is correct as there is no helping verb—you people, yeesh!)

So, I posted a quote on Facebook earlier in the week, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. Change? We need it. Growth, it’s the same thing. If we act as if we know everything, we can never change and grow. If I had acted the master about this opportunity and not trusted the universe to take care of me, I would have never done it. The old Lee would have said it was a bad idea and spent a lot of time trying to convince you why I was right. I wasn’t. It took me a long time to learn that there is no valuable experience in life that doesn’t require a little fear and discomfort. I’ve had plenty of both since embarking on this journey, but it pales in comparison to the growth I am experiencing. Today, I sat in a room full of Arabic educators looking to me to help fix their issues when they don’t believe they can be fixed. I was comfortable in saying, “I don’t have that answer, yet. I only know that we’ll try and we’ll learn from that. If it works, we move on. If not, we try again.” Their response; a scattered, thoughtful chorus, “Insha’Allah!”…then, silence. Translation… “God willing.” Isn’t that the way? I am touched. Everyday.

I love and miss you,


❤ TMD, my child.