Nancy’s New York – The Sweet 16

What would you do if you only had 5 months left to live in New York? The US?

I think we spent a good part of this weekend saying good-bye to New York.  We took my parents and sister’s family to eat a huge family meal at our favorite Thai restaurant, right here in Rockaway.  It’s on the bay and as scenic as the food is delicious.  We visited my husband’s office building in downtown Manhattan and admired the 360 views of NYC – The Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower and Brooklyn Bridge Park.  If I worked in that building, I wouldn’t get any work done!  I would sit staring out the windows and picking up games of ping-pong in the cafeteria!

I have been compiling a bucket list of things to do before we leave.  It has made me realize that my New York centers around family, friends and food.  I am making a list of things I must say good-bye to, places I must try before I go and who I need to spend time with before time is up.  My New York has been all about the diverse culture.  Cliche?  Perhaps.  But, I think what you allow on your plate says a lot about who you allow in your life.  Some people are very bland, picky and fake eaters. What does that mean? You go out to eat and they order a burger and fries because they don’t like seafood or Mexican food or waffles are too fattening. Then they lament throughout the meal, “this is too much! I won’t be able to finish this!”  Finally once their plate is clear they say, “I feel disgusting. I can’t believe I are that much.”  I can’t eat with people like this.

Others have a colorful palate.  They say things like, “Let’s try something new!” And “Try my dish!” Or “I can’t finish this but I’m taking it home for dinner!”  I definitely lean toward those who have open minds, hearts and taste buds!

I’m sure I have left off plenty, but here’s the Sweet 16:

1 – Serendipity – another cliche New York, I know!  But before that damn movie came out, my sisters and I would go here and indulge in the Forbidden Broadway and Frozen Hot Chocolate without a 3 hour wait!  Their food is “Meh,” but I’ll make a reservation for a full meal just to bag the lunch and get to dessert!

2 – Max Brenner – my new chocolate indulgence spot.  Their Italian hot chocolate is like pudding, another one of my favorite things.  I enjoyed this with my Mom and sisters one afternoon and it was well worth the trip through the pouring rain! Oh, if only I were Oprah…I’d fly you all here and treat you to this liquid heaven!  I also want to go here with my babies and all my nieces – it’s super kid friendly!

3 – Natsumi – anyone who knows me  knows that sushi is the only thing I ever want to eat!  I went here with one of my best friends, Maria, before a Janet Jackson concert and I remember it being one of the best served raw fish EVER!  I cannot believe we haven’t been back!  Probably because we have kids…It’s in Midtown Manhattan and pretty pricey!  Well, a babysitter will be hired – we are going back!

4 – Sugarcane – bread pudding and rum punch led me to my husband!  I just realized that if it weren’t for food, we would never have met! I love this place for its style, flavor and Brooklyn atmosphere.  If it’s a girls night out, we’ll get the wings.  If I can convince hubby to come back here, we’ll get the steak.

5 – Brooklyn Botanic Garden – one of my favorite places on earth!  I love most botanic gardens, but this one I got to know in depth while taking a botany course one summer.  There is nothing more soothing than admiring the beauty of plants, potting a seedling, or sketching exotic blooms with colored pencils.  I spent a month getting know every exhibit and now I bring my students there twice per year to see the beauty of a sleepy winter and the vibrant life of spring! I’ll go here and New York’s many other gardens with my Mom – she has a knack for growing beautiful things herself!

6 – The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, and The Guggenheim.  Art can heal a broken heart.  I never appreciated art growing up, despite having two sisters who are extremely talented in visual art.  I was actually bored at museums.  It wasn’t until I felt at my lowest, that I began to understand and appreciate it.  Once again, I took a course studying art in NYC and we spent Saturdays visiting different museums and analyzing different pieces.  I started scheduling tours at The Met for my students and I was mortified and delighted that the tour guide started with the unclothed statues in the Greek and Roman Gallery!  I don’t know if I’ll make it to all of them, Inshallah!

7 – Battery Park & Statue of Liberty – I’ve been so lucky to have been able to get to know this area of Manhattan.  A number of my PD’s are held here and my little family and I have walked along the promenade a few times.  One time in particular, we shared a bench with a family of readers.  Mom, Dad, and two little girls were all into their books as they stretched out in front of the waterways.  I promised that I would make sure my kids always carried a book.  As soon as I get them to sit still…Aside from the promenade, I’d like to say good-bye to Lady Liberty and ride the brand new sea-glass carousel with my munchkins.

8 – Levain Bakery – Huge Cookies that have a crisp crust and gooey inside.  I almost love them as much as Maison Kayser in Paris.  If I could bake cookies like this, I would be the perfect Mom.

9 – Brooklyn Bridge Park – I’ve been to Brooklyn plenty of times, but never took the time to check out the park until recently.  Playing tour guide to my cousin Erica from Texas, forced me to do some touristy things.  But this was a side of New York everyone must see.  With a view of skyscrapers across the river, Brooklyn Bridge looming above you, and one of the most spacious areas to stroll in NYC, Brooklyn Bridge Park has so much to offer!  Trails, grassy areas, a pop-up pool and lemonade stands! Oh, and built-in exercise machines next to the kids playground?  I could definitely squeeze in a work out everyday if this place weren’t 45 minutes from home.  All outdoors and all free! Well, except the food.  We discovered Luke’s Lobster in a tiny brick building by the bridge and while I thought I had had the best Lobster Roll in Montauk, this went far beyond my dreams!  Luke’s Lobster.  Go there.

10 – Montauk, The End – The end of Long Island, that is.  Montauk Manor, Gurney’s Inn, The Lighthouse – I don’t know if I’m really going to make it out there, but every so often I need to drive out to Montauk and gain some sanity!  This is where I spent my college years.  Most people head to places with parties and action.  I went to a place that is serene and quiet September -May. The beach takes over all your senses.  You smell it, see it, taste it everyday.  It’s the only place in New York that I get an idea of what it would be like to not have to rush anywhere – enjoy life at a slow pace. This is where we had our wedding, on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  This is where I would buy a block of land, grow some veggies, ferment some grapes, raise some chickens and live my life in peace.  If I could only afford it.  Costa Rica weighs in as second place in Retirement Goals.

11 – Famous Familgia Pizza – Pizza in New York is a must.  I loved hosting my cousin Erica last September because she was down with eating pizza everyday!  While I love the thin crust pizza at New Park in Howard Beach, the eggplant slice at Classica, Glendale, and the huge slices at any Puerto Rican Pizzeria in The Bronx, Famiglia has amazing lasagna and baked ziti!  Pizza is good too, but OMG with the cheesiness in their baked pasta!

12 – Thai Rock – I’m thinking of having our farewell party here.  It’s a beautifully designed restaurant with a deck overlooking the bay and one of the prettiest sunset spots in Rockaway.  The food is amazing and the owners are lovely!  If you’re dining out on the deck, they come around with blankets should the weather get chilly!  If we don’t have our farewell party here, we will definitely host a huge dinner for our closest friends and family.

13 –Bear Mountain – Hubby has been saying we should go hiking here forever!  Well, now that both kids know how to walk, this may be possible.  Hiking is an activity I would love to get into, but have never had the time nor the right companions!

14 – Long Beach, NY. Sorrento’s, Himawari, Chaba Thai – My old neighborhood of Long Beach still has the prettiest boardwalk and tastiest restaurants for after the beach.  I’ll try to get to all these places after a nice day on the beach in June!

15 – One World Observatory and Top of the Rock – typical tourist places offering amazing views of this city.  As we walked through downtown Manhattan Sunday to pick up cookies for Easter dessert, we talked about coming back here as tourists.  How easy is it to love this place when you don’t have to live here! How truly we love it despite having to live here!  These exhibits we might save for when we come home during the summer!

16 – Woodside, Queens – The Yellow House on a Hill.  Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  I must spend as much time as possible with my beautiful Grandmother, who turns 104 in a few days!  She has already received a sweet happy birthday wish from The White House!  They wrote,

March 15, 2016

Dear Marietta,

Happy 104th Birthday! We are delighted to send our warmest wishes as you celebrate this milestone!

Your story is an integral part of the American Narrative and you have witnessed the best of what of what our nation can accomplish when we work together in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow. 


Barrack Obama   Michelle Obama 

She still lives in the same yellow house in Woodside, Queens, that my Grandfather purchased as part of his American Dream.  The house where she cooked the world’s most savory dishes and finished raising 6 Children, 11 Grandchildren, 12 Great Grandchildren and I’m really not sure how many great great grandchildren.  This house that is both very large and very small, hosted parties for us all along with many more relatives, friends, and neighbors. The yellow house on a hill, that you’ll catch a glimpse of as you ride the LIRR into Manhattan. 

Despite her eyes failing her, she still maintains the house with the help of her children. You will often find her by the window, catching a breeze or listening to the riff-raff going on in the street. She thinks about all who have passed before her and sometimes…she asks when her time will come. She says this all in Spanish, assuming I don’t understand anyway. But I do.

She truly is a beautiful part of the American story and the story of New York. Coming to this country with nothing and offering so much. I will visit her as often as possible before we leave.



Trump’s New York

I was recently “reprimanded” for allowing my students to debate the presidential candidates.  A supervisor walked in on a “Socratic Seminar” my students had planned, organized, and led.  The problem?  We were supposed to be working on Unit 4.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a vigilante teacher out to upset the system.  I follow the curriculum as best as possible.  I don’t even like discussing politics.  But Trump has everyone buzzing.   He was a hot topic for this month’s socratic seminar  Living in New York, we can’t escape the talk about him.  And I hear Canada is building a wall…

Lucky for me, I submitted all authenticated documents on Monday night.  We scanned one last thing and emailed it to the recruiter.  It is now in their hands…and in the hands of God!  “Inshallah” is a term I am told to get used to hearing and using.

The supervisor had a speaking to me after school and requested I stick to the pacing calendar and I agreed. “But can we possibly work something like this into our teaching?  Where students debate topics of their choice?” and I got a shaking head. “How about after the test?”  A reluctant nod, “Sure, they can do something like this in June.”

I believe my students should have a say in what we are learning and doing in the classroom.  So if they want to watch the debates and then talk it out in class – I don’t get in the way.  They requested we have Socratic Seminars once or twice a month.  They requested the topics.  They set the date and came prepared with their talking points.  But we were supposed to be working on Unit 4.

On the positive side, my kids wanted to debate the presidential candidates.  That’s pretty awesome.  I haven’t seen this much interest in politics since Obama was elected.  No other election had students reading newspapers and watching debates like the Obama Candidacy.  There were millions of children cheering in New York City Schools when he won the 2008 elections (I’m just kidding.  I didn’t see millions of children cheering in New Jersey either).

This time around, I’m seeing students tune into republican debates and it’s great to see them looking into our government and asking questions and even wishing they could vote.

While I’ve worked for New York City for 13 years, I’ve only lived in NYC for nearly 4.  I’ve come to see that you need to live here if you’re going to service the people of New York. You need to know what it’s like to ride the trains and buses everyday.  You need to know what it’s like to have police checkpoints in your neighborhood once a week and police vans instead police cars patrolling.  You get to know the reason for certain behaviors when you see more garbage than trees, more delis than Starbucks, and more liquor stores than farmer’s markets.  NYC isn’t just Trumps’s Fifth Avenue.

I met Patch Adams once…you know, the doctor Robin Williams portrayed in the movie?  He wanted to open hospitals for people and provide services for free. His vision was to create a healthcare system that put “care” back into medical practice. I met him after a talk he gave at Southampton College in 2000 and asked him one question, “How do you prevent people from taking advantage of you?”

“I’m here to be taken advantage of.” he said, simply.  “Everyone needs help sometimes and I can’t judge who needs it more than any other person.  So if you need me, I’m here.” America could use more Patch Adams.





Dear Mr. Mrs. Ms. Dr. Nancy O…

I guess when you’re sending out hundreds of offer letters, you don’t have time to figure out who’s a he, she, post-grad, or other….but who cares?  I’m going to Abu Dhabi!!!

My hand has been wrapped around my phone so much over the last month that I think I’ve developed arthritis!  I keep checking, refreshing, and texting my interview buddies – just waiting for an offer.  Finally, it came today!

12:30 pm There is a buzz on the google+ and facebook groups – people getting offers after weeks of uncertainty!  I’m not really the type of teacher to have my phone out all the time, but this afternoon I had to keep checking.  

2:20 pm My email came and I could not hold it in!!!

2:21 I start skipping around the classroom and telling the kids I won a trip to Abu Dhabi!  Really, not the finest teaching moment, but there are just some things you cannot control-Utter Delight being one of them! They cheer for me and they groan when they realize it’s in the summer and not next week.  I forgive them and continue jumping for joy!

2:30 Students are dismissed so I text my husband in all caps.  Hubby knew this was coming and is just as thrilled as I am!

My sisters, however, remind me of the reality that is living oceans apart.

2:35 I text my sisters, Lisa and Nat, “I’m Moving to Abu Dhabi!”

2:40 Lisa’s reaction is a series of crying emoticons.

2:45 Natalie’s reaction is”But we’ll never see you…” followed by a shocked-face emoticon.

2:50 Lisa texts, “My babies will be 4 and 6 when you get back.”

I have to retract something I wrote earlier about being deserted…I wrote that I live miles away from friends and family and hardly ever see them.  This is still true, but in perspective, I see them a whole lot more often than I’m going to be over the next few years.  Baby Z just had her 1st sleepover with her cousins and loved it!  Last week, when I needed to visit the doctor, my friend Maria was able to watch the kids for a few hours.  When Baby Z gets sick, Grandma Gigi makes the drive over at 6 am to take care of her so I can still go to work. Grandma Ellen cannot go more than a few weeks without seeing us and the kids. My work BFF, the other Nancy O., occasionally crosses the bridge from New Jersey just to have lunch with me!  None of this will be possible when we’re on separate continents!

Then there’s my best friend, Denise and my goddaughter, Jelisa, and a family that has intertwined with mine over the last 28 years.  Throughout this past summer, we would meet at the pool or beach and Denise, who is SuperMom, brings all the things I forget (paper towels, sunblock, lunch).  D says, “It sounds exciting, but we will miss you.”  Jelisa’s reaction, “But I’m supposed to be their babysitter!”

Isn’t this what I wanted?  Yes.  It is going to be amazing for us.  Is it going to be hard?  Yes.  I did not “win a trip” to Abu Dhabi.  I got a new job.  It’s going to be work.  Fortunately, it is the type of work I love and a challenge that will fortify my career.  Will I miss New York?  Yes.  The people here are amazing.  We’re family.  We will visit.  We will be back.

In order to teach in NYC, sometimes you have to go away for a little while.  Get some perspective.  See what it’s like on the other side of the world.  For anyone who has worked at the same place for many years, you start to feel like it’s the same old thing and you’re running on repeat.  My students deserve better.  So I’m going to come back renewed and better than ever.

There are, however, plenty of incentives to stay.  But I can’t even think of those when I haven’t even been there yet.  Like I told them at the interview, we’ll have to see how it goes.

PS – It may seem that I’ve left out Mom, Dad and My Little Brother, but their reactions deserve a whole post all to themselves.  Coming soon!

*feature photo inspired by the post American Teacher in Qatar at