In the City of Sinners and Saints; Salt and Sugarcane

While sitting down for our second taste of Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans, I got the email:

Greetings from Qatar!

I’m sorry it has taken this long to put your offer together and appreciate your patience.  I believe that you have the qualifications and experience that is needed … and that you will be a good fit in our school with our staff.  

I almost choked on the pound of sugar sitting atop my diamond shaped donut – “I have a serious offer from Qatar!” I yell my husband.

We really wanted this.  After Abu Dhabi left us high and dry as the desert last June, we couldn’t get excited over their second offer.  But Qatar is a real step in the right direction as far as starting a career teaching abroad.  I can see myself there for several years, rather than an obligatory two.  Their IB Program is closer to what I am looking for as far as teaching style and philosophy.  My own children will be able to attend their schools and get a true global experience!

Which is why we were in New Orleans.

What are you going to do with two kids in New Orleans?  

Most people bawked at the idea of bringing two small children to the City of Sinners and Saints.  But I am usually after a different perspective and since we can’t really afford a flight for four to another continent, we might as well make the most of this one.  New Orleans offers so much history and culture shaped from around the world.

Ride the St. Charles Streetcar!

We were fortunate to arrive on an extremely rainy Sunday.  I believe it washed the streets clean enough for us to push a stroller down Bourbon Street over the next week.  On our first day, we took the kids to Jackson Square and rode a streetcar to Mardi Gras World. While the tour of parade floats seemed tedious for toddlers, making a mask full of glitter was a great craft for the kids!

At the Presbetyre Museum, we saw an exhibit on the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I sometimes want to say I experienced my own “Katrina” with Hurricane Sandy, but really, nothing compares to this type of devastation.  We were displaced, but not our entire community.  The similarities are the lack of attention given to those who need it most.  Their VA is just now opening, 15 years later!  Hospitals, schools, and programs that support the poor are still struggling to rebuild!   Anyhow, the exhibit takes you through experiencing the storm, artifacts collected in the rubble and stories of those who were lost.

The most notable experience on this trip was a visit to the Whitney Plantation.  We saw several plantation tours advertised, but this seemed like the most worthwhile.  The Whitney Plantation tells the story of life on a sugarcane plantation through the eyes of slave children.  It is a chilling tribute to the thousands of children who died while enslaved on these plantations.  These are stories you would never find in a text book at school.

We walked through a memorial dedicated to thousands of lost children. I became transfixed by a stature of an angel holding a baby in her hands.  It symbolized the children who died at birth…even those who were miscarriages.  There are records kept of each child, named and unnamed.  Records kept by slave owners, not to memorialize them, but for inventory. Each child was property and a dead child was property lost; a tax write-off.  I was frozen for quite a while at this particular memorial garden.

We toured slave quarters and a slave jail.  There were beautiful life-like statues of children throughout the grounds; in the aisles of the church, on the porch of their shacks and by the slave master’s bed.  Zara tried talking to them because they were exactly her height!

With every experience on this trip, the kids picked up at least 20 new words.  The cuisine were heavy, salty, brackish; the Mississippi River was brown, muddy, murky; and the beignets were just “too yummy.”

Beignets & Coffee @ Cafe Du Monde

The highlight for Baby D was riding the St. Charles Streetcar at night and seeing the classic homes lit up with Christmas lights.  The highlight for Lady Z was making the Mardi Gras mask and eating beignets!  For me, it was the Whitney Plantation and Geisha Sushi (really good sushi!).  For Hubby, it was most likely a catfish and grits meal at Ruby Slipper and an “American Pickers” marathon on TV!  We don’t have cable at home, so the oddest shows are like gold! The Louisiana Children’s Museum was also perfect for our little ones!  They loved serving food in the kid sized restaurant and shopping in the kid-sized supermarket!

We’re in for more adventures, ladies and gentleman!  Perhaps on the other side of the world?

Standing where we couldn’t have 150 years ago







By Friday, the streets were foul smelling and filthy.




Categories nyc

Sleepless in the US

Remember not being able to fall asleep on Christmas Eve?  Or the day before a trip to Six Flags? Or the night before the science fair?

That was me at last night.  The night before a Skype interview with a school in Qatar. Despite interviewing for Abu Dhabi last week in New York, despite receiving an offer letter from them (again), and despite receiving another invitation to interview with a school in S. Korea, I was super excited about interviewing for Qatar.

If you’re looking for more information about moving abroad and teaching in Qatar, you should check out my fellow teacher/blogger American Teacher Abroad.  Kennesha has been inspiring me from the start and to have her rooting for me in this endeavor has been a great support!

For me, my fascination with Qatar’s school system is their initiative to offer the leading international education experience. They are very forward-thinking in their curriculum design and offer an International Baccalaureate program.  I believe my teaching style and philosophy is most in line with the IB Program.

At 6 am (2 pm in Qatar) I settled into our building’s conference room and prepared to interview.  Via Skype, I met two lovely ladies, one a school director and the other a school principal.  In addition to asking me questions, they described their school’s vision and learning environment.  Some of their questions included:

  • What would I see walking into your classroom?
  • What has been your experience teaching students with limited English language skills?
  • How do you keep children in this age group (middle school) engaged?
  • What assessments do you give and how do you use the data?

It was very easy to speak with my interviewers.  They seemed truly interested in pursuing my application until we got the question:

  • Are you married? Single? Do you have any dependents?

I feel like at that point, they took a step back and said

“It will be a few weeks before we make any decisions…”


In the meantime, I will sign the Abu Dhabi offer letter and email it back to my recruiter.  I will check my email every few minutes.  I will message my fellow interviewees and see how they are getting along with the process of moving abroad.  I will wait….sleepless in the US.

Check out some of these blogs by teachers currently teaching in the UAE…I haven’t found too many by teachers in Qatar (most blogs are several years old) so feel free to share!

Amber in the UAE:

Jen in the UAE:

My Daily NYC 5/13/16

The Notes App on my iPhone has become a sort of diary for me. Scrolling through you’ll see:

  • What teachers do all summer 7/30/16
  • Goals 2/17/16
  • Natalie’s Wedding Toast 7/30/15
  • Shopping for New Apt 3/27/14
  • Baby names 12/29/12

I never have time to write in my fancy leather bound diary. Nor any time to write in an artsy diary I purchased in France with Monet’s Sunrise on the cover. Not even a crack into the cute little owl covered journal I bought when my daughter was born. It’s a wonder I got this blog thing going!  Motherhood and teaching have very little down time. One can never be bored!

I remember being inspired to jot down “My Daily NYC” after reading a post by Trudy who blogs in Rendezvous En New York.  She described her NYC Non-negotiables for Happiness and it got me thinking of what got me through the day in NYC.

My Daily NYC 5/13/16:

  1. My Morning Coffee.  Mornings are a mad dash of chaos (6 am wake, shower, dress. 7 am wake & dress the kids.  7:20 pile everyone in the car.  7:45 drop off hubby at the A Train. 7:50 drop off kids at daycare. 7:55 search for parking.  8:05 enter work – hopefully). I usually rely on Starbucks.  They sold me on the App perks. I’d love to go to Rockaway Roasters every morning, but there is no parking lot or mobile orders.  If for some reason I can’t make it to Starbucks, I end up getting a weak brew from a deli.  Sad face.
  2. Parking Loopholes.  It is possible to drive to work in Queens, however, if I want to be on time for work, I take a semi-illegal spot at a bus stop that forces me to move my car by 1 pm or face an $85 ticket. Oh well. I need to step out of the school building for fresh air at least once a day anyway.
  3. Deli/Bodega/Bagel store for lunch. I hate packing lunch because by the time 12 noon rolls around, I might have had the type of day that requires comfort food. Sometimes I’ve had the type of day that requires a sandwich that can be inhaled in under 45 seconds. Sometimes, I just want more coffee. Still waiting for gentrification to hit Ozone Park so I can get some more options for lunch.
  4. Alternate routes. Traffic. Sucks. ALWAYS. Better to know your side streets and, if only for your sanity’s sake, take the scenic route instead of blasting your horn down Crossbay Blvd.
  5. Rockaway Beach & other NYC Parks by the water. I don’t know what I’d do without the ocean. Whether is on the boardwalk or a promenade in Brooklyn, water views add zen to our chaotic city.

The similarities and differences here in NOVA?

  1. My Morning Coffee – I am now the only one leaving the house at 6:30 am every morning (waking at 5:30) so I either brew a pot and bring my coffee or I make a stop at Starbucks (those perks add up).  Did I mention how much earlier I need to be at work?  School doesn’t start till 7:30 but we are encouraged to be in before 7 otherwise you will get stuck behind the horde of buses dropping kids off.
  2. Parking Lot.  No loopholes needed.  There’s plenty of spots and I usually take a spot right in between the exit and the front door.  One less battle to fight before you start the work day!
  3. Bring Your Own Lunch or starve.  There are no delis or bodegas on any corner in this area.  There are lots of trees!  So if I don’t pack a sandwich, salad or leftovers, I’m screwed for lunch.  Lesson learned and now I leave a few cans of Progresso in my closet at school.  We have quite the teachers lounge, unlike NYC, so I fill the fridge with salad, tomatoes, croutons and avocados for the week.  There’s even a stove if I want to whip up something (which I don’t).
  4. Alternate Routes are still necessary.  I have a pretty direct commute of 10 minutes on the Beltway, but, if there’s an accident, I jump right off and experiment with side roads.  Ok, so that’s happened once.
  5. Parks and Waterfronts are still vital to me.  I love Alexandria Waterfront and Great Falls Park.  The only difference is that you can, believe it or not, swim in the ocean in NYC.  You cannot swim in the Potomic.  It sure is pretty to look at!  I’ve become a fan of hiking and hope to do more of it over the next year.

Hiking @ Great Falls Park

NYC teachers go through so much before the day even begins! The kids don’t have it any easier – there’s no bus that picks you up on your street corner and drops you in front of the school.  Most of my kids took the crowded J train to Jamaica Ave and transferred to a crowded Q11 bus which leaves you two blocks away from the school’s entrance. Can you imagine riding the subway in 6th grade?

What are your non-negotiables?  What gets you through the day in your city?

Last car in the parking lot

I Pass

I recently passed up two job opportunities.  Here I am writing a blog all about how much I want to teach abroad and I’ve fudged-up two jobs!

The first was with a job in Jakarta.  I had all my paperwork in, final interview scheduled and a great recruiter rooting for me.  The phone started to ring at the appointed time and I hesitated.

Ring 1

The pay is very low, but there is a very low cost of living as well.  No money would be left over to put into savings.

Ring 2

This job would not help me find housing

Ring 3

This job does not provide flights for my family

Ring 4

The school is located far from the ocean

Ring 5

There is no healthcare provided for my family

I never picked up the phone.  I apologized to the recruiter later and said that I never should have agreed to interview.  This was not the right move for me and my family.

A month later, I was asked to interview with a school in Saudi Arabia.  The call came in at 5 am.  Again, I let it ring and ring and ring.  I didn’t pick up.  The school left a voicemail saying they would reschedule in another two weeks.   Are they nuts?  I wouldn’t give me a second chance.  When the call came in two weeks later, I picked up the phone.  I interviewed very briefly with a department head and Principal.  Their questions included:

How soon can you move?

What will your husband do when he comes here?

Are you ready to take on a new culture and way of life?

Ok, so these are completely valid questions, but not a single question about my teaching? Education? Educational philosophy?  I Googled the school to make sure it is a reputable place and it looks really amazing.  There are pictures of a sprawling, modern campus and high-tech classrooms. What were they looking for in me?

The recruiter asks me to submit paperwork to begin the process of applying for a visa.  As I stared at pages of paperwork, medical forms, authentication procedures…I hit a wall.

I did all of this.  It took so much time and effort.  And money.  And it all went to waste.

I replied that I would turn the papers in within a few days, but I put it off another week. Then two weeks, three weeks, a month goes by and I can’t bring myself to even print the applications.  The last email from the recruiter went unanswered.

What’s wrong with me?  Wasn’t moving abroad the point of this past year?  Yes, it has been a year since that first interview over the phone for Abu Dhabi.  I remember how confident I was as I moved through that process; phone interview, in-person interview, paperwork and more paperwork.  Running between Mineola and Midtown, Brookville to Jamaica, Queens.

I actually don’t think I have the energy to do it all again.  At least, not right now.  The process of moving abroad is not easy.  But, It’s hiring season again.  Do I keep going for it or give myself a year to mend my broken heart?  I love my new school here in Virginia.  It’s everything a teaching position should be and more.

And then I get an invitation to interview for ADEC in New York on November 14th.  Here we go again!

Mosaic District, North Virginia

September Baby

September is always a whirlwind.  The start of a new school year, meetings, lesson planning, room decorating, training sessions etc.  As a child, I loved September because it signaled the start of school, cooler weather, and my birthday!  Now I just tolerate September.

When your birthday is in September, it never gets celebrated.  School has just begun and no one has gotten around to asking, “When’s your birthday?” yet.  And since we moved around so much as kids, I was always just in the midst of making school buddies when my birthday came around.  A week or two later they’d ask, “So, when’s your birthday?” and I’d say “last week,” and they’d say, “Aw!  We missed it?  Next year!” but by next year, our family moved somewhere else.

The same as an adult.  Only my closest friends know my birthday and we celebrate with a good lunch out.  My Mom makes dinner.  My sister would get a cake.

But here, in this totally new environment, everything is different.

A newsletter went out at the start of school listing everyone who had a birthday in September.  I had a few co-workers wish me “Happy Birthday!” days in advance.  On my actual birthday, i received cards in my mailbox.  As I walked into my department meeting, I was greeted with two large mylar balloons, juice, muffins and post-it note presents!

Of course, I then had to walk to my classroom holding the balloons and muffins and my students asked, “Hey, is it your birthday, Ms. O?” and I couldn’t lie.  So they followed me down the hall singing “Happy birthday to you…”

Then I walk into my classroom with the balloons and more students join in, “Happy Birthday Ms. O-(muffled mixture of mispronunciations because they don’t even know how to say my name correctly yet, but they’re trying!)”

As class progresses, I notice a boy take a couple of post-it notes and markers and step outside.  I think nothing of it as I conference with students and help them with their work.  But at the end of class, I open the door to see, “It’s Ms. O’s Birthday Today – Sing to Her” covering my door – each letter of every word on an individual post-it note.  The boy has already rushed off to his next class so I can neither scold nor thank him!

The day continued with a training session until 6:30 pm on Project Based Learning. Usually a topic I love, but I had just received a text from hubby stating “We have a reservation for 7:30 tonight.  Your parents will watch the kids.”

With my Mom visiting, I figured we would all go out to dinner, but here was the prospect of dinner with my husband…alone!  No kids!  So I tapped my foot impatiently waiting for the training to end.

“Where are we going?” I asked him as I got ready. He lets out a little laugh.  I follow his lead and stick to jeans and a nice shirt and follow him out the door.  I turn toward the car but he steers me to continue walking down the street.  We’ve moved into a vibrant neighborhood filled with restaurants and shops right outside our door.  Not a huge difference from NYC, but definitely smaller, nicer and less crowded.

We walk right up to Muse Paint Bar and realize our reservation is for two paintbrushes and glasses of wine!  My husband really shocks me sometimes!  No boring dinner where we talk about the kids – we painted amateur versions of Monet’s Water Lilies instead!

Sushi followed, but it was not as cool as the painting experience.  Definitely not as cool as my husband, my students, and my new co-workers!

It has been fun exploring new sights and I love this school system. But I don’t know if I can call it home yet. 



Categories nyc

If We Were Having Coffee in September

Meeting for coffee with you is going to be quite difficult now that we are in different cities. You in New York and me in Virginia.  But after the 4 hour drive (ok 5 because a bathroom break and fill-up in NJ is necessary), I’ll take you to a fabulous place in the Mosaic District that has delicious salted caramel lattes and funky, wicker chairs shaped like blobs.

If we were having coffee, I’d apologize for abandoning you and our youngest sister.  I can hardly believe we live in different states now!  How will we manage without each other? Actually how will I manage without you?  The both of you have it together way more than I do.  You remember to pack snacks when going out with the kids and always have wipes of some sort in your bag.  You always remember a change of clothes or an extra towel…Baby Z’s entire wardrobe is thanks to all the items she’s borrowed from your girls!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you about my first week working at my new school and all the great food I’ve eaten.  In New York, we were lucky if we got bagels for teacher appreciation week.  School had barely begun and we had lunch catered from Chipotle, On the Border, Listrani’s, some awesome donut shop and one day, lunch was held at a parent’s home on behalf of the PTA!  Yeah, the houses in this school zone can accommodate lunch for a staff of 65+ teachers.  Dad asked if the kids generally walked to school, but driving around the “neighborhood” I got the impression that they don’t even walk to the end of their long driveways.  It’s a different world then where we come from.  But the kids are super sweet and polite and I love this change already.  The principal has served us all ice cream twice and the assistant principal cooked us all slow-cooker bbq sandwiches!

My Classroom

You’re wondering why we left.  How could we leave our family?  How could we separate all the kids? I saw Gabby start to cry as we drove away from the house that last day.  Being the eldest cousin, she understands what this move means…a quarter of her family is gone.  I miss her so much.  I ask those questions over and over and I never get a clear answer.  I’m hoping it all becomes clear soon.  I was always going to leave New York at some point.  I had been looking for opportunities all over the country (and all over the world) for years! This move is probably not the last.  I was looking at pics of Carla’s family enjoying their new home.  Her husband was smart to make a move after she passed.  Sometimes, you just have to get out of New York City.  It’s just too much aggravation!  They’re going to do great on Long Island.  If I could afford to live there, I would have moved there too.  I will come home someday.  I know that for certain. As soon as Gabby, Bella, Sophia, Zara, Djibril, Allie, and Olivia are ready to start their own band.  Or soccer team.

Saying goodbye to Grandma and cousins

And you are going to have to come visit.  I already have it planned out:  You spend one week here, we will spend one week in New York.  Then one week in Montauk, one week in LBI and one week in Virginia Beach.  What was I thinking, moving to a place with NO BEACHES!!!

If we were having coffee, I think we’d both feel a lot better.  And have room for dessert.

Enjoying new experiences together in Old Towne Alexandria



Categories nyc