Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

A painting by Jane Evershed - I have this hanging in my kitchen
"The Founder's Footsteps"

When I started this blog this summer, it truly was because I was grading and needed a diversion for a little bit. I also knew that I wanted to blog with my students this semester, so I told myself that my taking the time to create a blog was actually "research" into how blogs worked... yeah, right. That thought was just some excuse not to be grading, and I know it.

At the time, I did not imagine how I would come to use the blog. Yes, I frequently post when I should be grading [like now], but more often than not, I use the blog as a way for me to process how I'm viewing the world these days.

I say, "these days" because there genuinely is a difference in how I view the world now versus just a few years ago. There really is an "old Lee" and a "new Lee."

I had a chat with a sorority sister this evening, and she made this comment to me:
You've gone from being a victim to a survivor, even in your own head.
Wow. That really sums it up.

I've alluded to this idea in some other blog posts, but this conversation really caused me to do even further analysis. You see, the "old Lee" really was a victim. As a teenager, I experienced an incident of sexual abuse. In college, I was date raped. I do believe that the first event is a contributing factor to the second, as my self-esteem tanked and I lost my ability to discern how I should be treated by others. My response to both was to hide - to change my major and consequently my career to one with very few men and to marry the first man who made me feel safe - a relationship that stemmed from a clear power differential between the two of us. In the process of hiding, I went numb. I went through the motions of what I was "supposed" to do, and somewhere along the way I lost my identity. I allowed my husband to call most of the shots, and I developed a learned helplessness that wasn't pretty.

Sixteen years after I was raped, I was in the middle of my doctoral program (which brought me back to life in so many ways) when the realization that the rape had impacted my life in ways I had not paid attention to hit me. This realization led to therapy, as well as the dissolution of my marriage. I wrote here about it, and it's worth a read, although when I wrote this piece I still had not done some major healing work, because I had allowed the rape to be my focus in the healing, when truthfully I needed to go back even further than that.

My marriage fell apart when I started the healing process, and I eventually moved into another relationship that helped me heal on some levels but still had a power differential. That relationship ended because I fell for a man who came back into my life about whom I always wondered, "what if?" Unfortunately, timing stunk, and neither of us were really ready for each other; he literally left me with this nugget: "Lee, you have to be happy with yourself. You can't depend on anyone else for that happiness."

That one comment rang truer than it ever had for me, and I began a period of soul-searching as well as recognizing that I still had a lot of healing to do. I started the process of healing from the abuse, and the depression that ensued was the perfect storm of love lost (x2) as well as the self-induced pain of healing. I also could not eat, which was very frustrating. As my therapist told me, women who are going through such levels of healing are doing so much mental, spiritual, and emotional work that mastication is more than they can do. Sleep was very fleeting, and I spent many a night crying out to God and sobbing hysterically. I truly believe I literally experienced hell on earth.

It was during this time that I started exercising as a way to deal with stress. The first time I went to the gym to exercise was pitiful. It was all I could do to get on the elliptical and have it work at its very lowest setting for 15 minutes without turning off. My heart rate was through the roof, but I persisted and gradually worked up to longer, more intense cardio. A few months into exercising, the good folks at the gym recommended that I try the BodyFlow class - a combination of yoga, tai chi, and pilates - as it would help me relax. I remember laying on the floor during the meditation portion of one of the classes and the instructor saying, "Go to your happy place." I lay there stumped. Happy? Where was I happy?

This question plagued me for weeks. I finally found the answer, though. At sorority convention that summer, a speaker had the following up on one of her slides:
Be open to the unexpected.
Be present.

Be generous.

Be your word.
Be who you are
and accept others for who they are.
Be where you are
and accept what you have.
Be the change you want to see in the world.
As I sat there listening to her, I thought to myself, "That's happiness. That's what I want."

My happy place is when I feel like I'm making a difference. It's why I enjoy my children, students, and sorority work. It's not a physical location but a result that comes from BEING. It's the recognition that each moment is an opportunity and a gift.

And so, the "new Lee" was born. I started savoring the little things, accepting people for who they are and where they are. The exercise produced another change in that I started feeling healthy and good about myself. My wardrobe began to change, too, and the clothes that I started wearing looked younger and more vibrant than before. In a nutshell, I quit hiding and I started living.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I recognize that in many ways this blog not only provides me a diversion from grading, it also allows me to give thanks and celebrate the beauty that is inherent in the process of living. I often feel like I'm writing with a perspective that is somewhat naive or narcissistic, but I think that feeling only comes from the fact that this feeling of living is still so new to me. There are some days I literally can't believe how blessed I am to be living the life I have and experiencing the things I do, and all I want to do is share that feeling of incredulity. And there are days where I am feeling anger and frustration, and I just need to get it out. The key word in many of these sentences is feeling. I FEEL!

And that is the difference between being a victim and a survivor. Today, I give thanks that I am a survivor, and that with each passing day I grow more into the woman I always should have been.

The poem that goes with the painting:

The Founder's Footsteps...

No one was watching
When you first tied fast
The tight rope of your own making,
Then summoned the strength to walk it.

Now the Universe smiles upon you
With all the women you have transitioned with,
Away from pain and bondage
Toward the seductive drumbeats
Of conscious evolution
And self empowerment.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Just had an interchange with someone that was so clearly passive aggressive that I am seething.

I know passive aggressive well. I've had good (or is that bad?) models with passive aggressive behavior in my lifetime... and I work very, very hard NOT to be passive aggressive. But when it comes my way, it is hard not to retaliate.

Meanwhile, I just found a website devoted to passive aggressive notes. Who knew? Ironically, it made me feel a little bit better. That's probably passive aggressive in and of itself.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


One of my friends posted this on my facebook wall on my birthday:

Doesn't it somehow feel like revenge to look so good at 40? Happy Birthday!

It does. Oh yes, it does.

Friday - my actual birthday - brought a pedicure, dinner for 15 at one of my favorite restaurants, and a night spent in Buckhead. Saturday found me shopping and having lunch with two of my friends who drove from Savannah just for the party, and today I got to see New Moon with DD1 and some of my cohort students. Through all of this, I even managed to block out the ridiculous amount of grading I need to be doing, too.

I could not have asked for a better birthday weekend. So far, I'm liking 40. Liking 40 a lot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One More Day

One more day of my 30s. I find this fact to be absolutely amazing. How'd I get here? And how is this possible?

I handled turning 30 by being pregnant. I am handling turning 40 by running a half marathon. At this point in my life, that is definitely the better choice.

A quick recap of the last 10 years, since I'm feeling somewhat nostalgic:
  • Age 30:
    • Career shift to Gifted Education instead of self-contained elementary.
    • The birth of my beautiful daughter, DD2.
    • An incredible 13 months of nursing her and learning how to be a mom to two children 2.5 years apart.
  • Age 31:
    • A fabulous 10th anniversary cruise with my [now ex-]husband.
    • Completely engrossed with toddlerhood and pre-school.
  • Age 32:
    • Beginning of my doctoral program. I started to come alive again in an academic environment
    • Learning how to balance... mom, working full time, graduate student, wife.
  • Age 34:
    • Therapy, thanks to my doctoral program :)
    • Purchasing my first car on my own
  • Age 35:
    • Completion of Doctorate
    • Career change to higher education
    • Moving out "on my own" with my kids
    • Adjusting to life as a single mom - both kids now in school
  • Age 36:
    • Getting divorced
    • Buying my own house
    • Learning how to handle the house and yard without "help" [the trick is to pay others to do it - who knew?]
  • Age 37:
    • Discovering the joys of being a "mentor leader"
    • Vacationing with my kids and friends in the Grand Canyon
    • 20th high school reunion
  • Age 38:
    • Celebrating my birthday by taking kids on a cruise
    • Love and loss
    • Depression
    • Discovering the benefits of exercise
    • Building and re-building friendships
  • Age 39:
    • Running! and Races! Culminated by a half marathon!
    • Reconnecting with old friends
    • Savoring time spent with my children
    • Taking risks and making new friends, some thanks to my random facebook adventures
    • Dating again - yeah, that's a trip!
My 30s looked nothing like what I could have imagined 10 years ago. And while there have been highs and lows, I've learned that I am strong, capable, and worthy of life's blessings over the past 10 years. Which leads us to 40, and the inevitable wondering of what lies ahead when one hits a milestone. I googled "turning 40" earlier, and I found this - it's attributed to Oprah Winfrey:
At 40, something magical happens to you--something liberating and rejuvenating and exhilarating. You acquire a healthy disregard for what other people think. You gain the confidence to define yourself boldly and on your own terms. You don't accept anyone else's judgments but your own. In short, you stop living your life for other people and start living it for yourself. The force is with you because, at long last, it is in you.
So, one more day. I'm feeling pretty darn good about what lies ahead.

Bring it, 40!

Saturday, November 14, 2009


not me, or anyone else I know - I just like this picture

I have been absolutely marveling at the fall colors as I'm driving (and driving, and driving, and driving) my kids around, since one of my many hats is that of taxi driver. I've thought to myself a number of times that the colors are just absolutely astounding this year.

One morning that we were running late I didn't have my regular sunglasses in the car, but did have the sunglasses I use when I am running. All that day I wasn't as astounded by the colors as I have been previously.

Turns out that the reason the colors have been so incredible for me this fall is that my regular sunglasses have a filter that has really brought out the fall colors. I can't decide if I'm disappointed to learn this or not. It has caused a somewhat amusing thing, though, as I will frequently lift my sunglasses while driving to look at the trees, then put them back, lift them again, and then put them back. With some trees, the sunglasses just truly enhance what I see. With others, they are just stunning whether or not the glasses are there.

I let DD1 wear them this morning as I took her to an outdoor workday at her school. She didn't want to give them back.

I'm sure there is some great piece of wisdom buried in this anecdote. Something about how lenses that we apply can enhance our understanding of the world, or can cause us to not see things that are literally right in front of our face... Or something about looking at the world through rose colored glasses... Or maybe a Plato and the cave analogy...

Eh, that's too much thinking for a Saturday morning. I'm off to enjoy the day and the beautiful colors, thanks to my sunglasses.

Friday, November 13, 2009

They're Gr-r-reat!!

Last week, I asked my youngest what she wanted from the grocery store, she thought for a moment and said, "Frosted Flakes."

Ok, not hard to remember. I like Frosted Flakes, too.

When I got home from the grocery store, what had I bought?

Frosted Mini-Wheats. The other frosted cereal that I like.

This week when I mentioned I was going to the grocery store, my youngest said, "Don't forget the Frosted Flakes, Mom."

I replied, "Hey, at least I got the frosted part right."

Her response? "Yeah, but I wanted Frosted Flakes. Just remember it has a tiger on the front and the box is blue."

I laughed, because I wasn't expecting that from her, and proceeded to do my best Tony the Tiger imitation. The response was a simple, "Mooomm," uttered in the "there's no way I can be related to this person" tone. Had I been able to look at her, I'm sure there would have been the rolling of the eyes, too.

I got it right this time. But only because I remembered the tiger.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

And Let the Celebration Begin...

I did it! I ran the half marathon this morning and it was one of the most holistic experiences I can recall - and by holistic, I mean that it impacted me mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I don't know of many experiences that can have that effect - certainly not in 2:42:36.

I drove through Atlanta yesterday, and while I wasn't where the race was, I was near it, and I remember thinking, "Geez, these places that I know are on the course are far apart." I started experiencing doubt and fear, and really questioned what I was thinking doing a half marathon.
Prior to this race, I don't remember ever having doubt or fear. I think it comes from the fact that I typically run 5Ks or 10Ks. 3.1 or 6.2 miles just aren't the same as 13.1 miles.

I stayed with some good friends last night, and it wasn't until about 8:30PM that I finally committed to doing the race, even though I had packed my bag and left home much earlier in the day. My knee wasn't bothering me all that much, and I figured, what the heck. So this morning the alarm goes off at 5:20, and while I was "awake," I remember thinking that I was also nutty for getting up so early to go run. I left their house a little after 6, and was at Atlantic Station by 6:40.

My running partner bailed on me earlier in the week, so I was at this event by myself. There are good and bad points to that - good that I am willing to do these things on my own; bad in that I'd really like someone to do these things with, and a sense that I'm not all alone in the process. Running the races around where I live there are usually a few people I know to talk to before and after the race - with this one, not so much. I did take a group's picture, and they returned the favor with me, as you can see above. I'll make the comment that it is 6:50 or so in the morning in 45 degree weather.

The race started promptly at 7:30, and here are the folks moving to the start. This race was a combination 5K and Half Marathon, so we're all starting together here:

Between miles 2 and 3, the 5K folks got to turn around and go back to the start/finish line, and the rest of us kept going straight. For a split second it was tempting to turn and go with them, but I kept going ahead, and headed over the 17th street bridge towards Spring Street:

The view from the bridge

I have to say that this is the point that I started really enjoying myself, which makes sense. It usually kicks in somewhere around mile 3, as I find the first 3 miles to be rather hard. It is also at this point that I begin to think, "I can do this."

Here are a few more pictures from the race:

Just past mile 4 - The Varsity

Somewhere close to mile 5 - The World of Coke at our entrance to Centennial Olympic Park

Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN Center - between miles 5 and 6

The Georgia Dome

Headed toward the Olympic Rings - the one stretch of the race where runners going both directions are together. I'm somewhere between miles 6 and 7; the runners coming toward me are between miles 8 and 9.

The turn towards Turner Field

After going around Turner Field - just past mile 8 and about to go under the Olympic Rings

The Georgia Capitol Building - Near Mile 9. Last of the pictures, because I was at a point where I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I maintained right at a 12 minute mile through mile 8. Seriously - I would hit the mile marker and look at my watch and it was dead on the 12 minute mark several times. I slowed down to a 13 minute mile between miles 8 and 9 partly because they gave us energy chews and I didn't feel right eating and running. I managed another 12 minute mile between 9 and 10, but then things slowed a little after that. The hill that was in the middle of miles 10 and 11 was brutal, and with my tired legs I didn't dare run it. After that, I just focused on running 2 minutes and walking 1, and didn't worry about the pace. I knew I'd finish under 2:45, and if I couldn't get 2:36, that was still pretty darn good for my first half marathon.

Physically, I was very close to ready for this race. I missed out on a few weeks of training due to plantar fasciitis, and I do think that impacted me. I was worried about my knee, and it really didn't start bothering me until about mile 9.

Spiritually, just being out on the streets of Atlanta with my music going - I just smiled. My running playlist hit just right today. The Prayer of St. Francis - with "Make me an Instrument of Peace..."; Natalie Merchant's Wonder - "I must be one of the wonders - God's own creation... Fate smiled and Destiny laughed as she came to my cradle - know this child will be able; laughed as my body she lifted - know this child will be gifted;" Sugarland's Settlin' - "I ain't settlin' - for anything less than everything;" REM's It's the End of the World As We Know It - "and I feel fine;" Melissa Etheridge's I Run For Life; Indigo Girls' Prince of Darkness - "My place is of the sun... and I will not be a pawn for the Prince of Darkness any longer"... Today is Sunday after all, and I had my own little church service going on as I ran that fed me.

While a lot of choosing to run long distances is a mental thing, the songs playing fed into the cognitive piece of the run. Also, my thoughts centered frequently on how much had changed for me in my life that led to this run. At times, I compared it to my doctoral process - which is also a marathon in many ways - you can't skip any part of the process - you just have to keep going one step at a time.

But emotionally - I wasn't expecting all that went into the experience. I expected to feel a sense of pride, and I expected to be tired, and I expected to feel that same sense of joy and communion that I wrote about here, but I didn't expect to begin to feel tears well at mile 12. I remember thinking, "what? you're kidding me. No, don't start crying." I kept it in until I crossed the finish line, at which point I burst into tears.

The tears came from deep within. I wept with joy, exhaustion, exhilaration, pride. Not only had I conquered my own doubt and fear, I had conquered 13.1 miles, which prior to this year, was not even in the realm of possibility for me. As I was running, I had a number of moments where I basked in the fact that I was doing something I never would have dreamed of doing prior to this year. Never. I didn't believe that I could do anything like this before. Not at 20. Not at 35. No - this was not even on my radar. And the fact that I was doing it for the first time - at nearly 40 years old - is empowering. Not that 40 is old, but that I could feel so young and capable when previously I felt and looked so much older, and that for all practical purposes I have re-envisioned my life - that's worth crying about. It's worth celebrating.

I will turn 40 in 12 days. When I set the goal of a half marathon for myself, I knew I wanted to run it in November because of my birthday, but the thought was nothing more than "How cool would it be to say that the month I turned 40 I ran a half marathon?" While running today, one of my most recurring thoughts wasn't "how cool it would be" but instead had to do with the fact that this run marks the beginning of that celebration.

The finisher's necklace... Zooma Atlanta 13.1 - 11/8/09

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

Tomorrow is the half marathon. I've been training, and for the most part I'm ready.... Except my knee hurts, and my feet are still showing signs of plantar fasciitis. I had a kink in my right calf muscle earlier in the week which I've managed to work out, thanks to a massage roller. I did an 11 mile run 2 weeks ago, have kept up the cardio since, and did a 4 mile run on Thursday to see how I'm feeling.

Clearly, I'm feeling mixed.

I really want to do this, but I'm not sure it would be the best decision in the world. And I told myself I'd make the call today about whether or not I would.

Dadgum it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Crisis

things obviously turned out ok...

In addition to the crazy grading I've been doing, Mom time has been filled with Halloween preparation. I spread the wealth, or tried to, and somehow managed to have the girls' Dad purchase one of the costumes while I did the other. DD1 poured over catalogs for a month and finally settled on a pirate costume two weeks ago, just before they went to their Dad's for fall break.

On Sunday at the end of their fall break I met them at Party City (over an hour away from our house), and they had already made the purchase. DD1 was sooooooooooooooo excited on the way home, and raced in the house to try it on for me. Within minutes, she came bursting out of her room sobbing and hyperventilating - the costume was too small, the straps had already broken, and the leggings were missing. I asked if she had tried it on at the store, and she said yes, she had, over her pants.

I was the picture of calm. Inside I was just shaking my head and irritated beyond belief - not at DD1, but at her Dad. How was it possible that this could be that messed up? She, however, didn't need to know this, so I kept it together and told her we would take care of it. She starts crying even more, as there is no Party City near us, and she just couldn't figure out how we were going to solve this problem. I looked online - we could order it, but it would be Friday before it arrives, and she needed it by Thursday.

I finally convince her that all will be fine, that we have time to go to our next nearest shopping opportunity which is..... 45 miles away - on Monday.

So we went. Along with just about every other person in the mid-state area. I've never, ever seen a Party City so crowded. We tried on and bought the costume.... again. I had no receipt, plus it was missing pieces and broken, so I just bought it.

Since we were going all that way we made a shopping expedition out of it, and five hours later returned home considerably more broke than when we left, but she also had jewelry to wear with the costume and beyond, a new jacket for DD2's cat costume that could be worn inside out because it was "furry" as well as on cool days, and a new trench coat and some cold weather running gear for me. All was right with the world, though, and both girls were pleased with their Halloween costumes.

Halloween day DD1 and I bonded as we painted our fingernails black. I'm still sporting mine. My students today said I looked trendy. I think they are just brown-nosing.


The worst of the grading is behind me! I've been somewhat quiet here because of it. While I haven't graded "solid" for the past 2ish weeks, I've graded a lot. I still have a little more to do tomorrow, but then I will get a slight reprieve.

This last bit of grading has been interesting - even though it was painful to do. The first bit showed me that while my students "know" what to do, they didn't know how to "do" it. This revelation prompted a "Come to Jesus" discussion with them that was probably at the right time. The next set of papers - this time, the actual lesson plans that they will be implementing - that came right on the heels of the first set was overall much better. I only had a few who had to redo.

Which leads to the crux of the grading dilemma.... There is a school of thought that says, "If they don't get it right, then they fail." And then there's the school of thought that says, "If they don't get it right, remediate and let them try again." I tend to fall into the second school of thought - not always, but certainly in this case. Because with this case, if they don't get it right, then they can't teach. I'm not going to let my students flounder with poorly developed lessons, because if they fail, so do the children they are teaching.

Every one of them is going out there with "good" lesson plans - and by good, I don't mean perfect, but certainly doable. Some are more doable than others, but I think all of them will teach them something about the planning process when it comes to teaching. One can't factor in the student variable... one can't figure out what students will "get" and what they "don't get." Just as I did not imagine that I would still be grading lesson plans the night before they are due to be implemented... but I did. With experience, they will have a better chance of knowing what will work and what won't, but it isn't an exact science.

These women genuinely want to do well, and I know that I'm sending them out there with enough feedback to be successful. I hope that for the most part they nail it. I also hope that on some levels they don't, because sometimes the greatest teacher is failure. Either way, they will emerge stronger, more competent teachers.