The 4.5 hours to NYC


I’m in NYC finishing up some more papers for authentication. This process is painful.

Hubby took the bus here 3 weeks ago to get some papers authenticated. Unfortunately, we missed the part where you you need a new letter from your university that certifies that you’ve

  • Competed your degree in person and not online
  • Dates you attended
  • The university’s credentials

And a lot more that I can’t think of right now. Fortunately, Queens College came through in time for spring break so here I am!  I’m grateful for being able to spend more time with my family and have the week off. 

But this is no Bahamas vacation.

This is running up and down the steps of Queens County Clerk’s office on Sutphin Blvd,

Racing past the crowds with laundry carts to the J train,

And standing on the filthy train platforms on my way to 123 William Street.

I’m leaning into shops wafting with flavorful food

And dodging piles of stinking trash on the sidewalks.

I miss New York, but these streets really are mean.  

It will all pay off. It has to!



All that running in around in NYC and paperwork is still not complete!!! I’ve still got to go back to New York because most of my papers are mostly New York State Documents, they must be authenticated by the Qatar Consulate in NEW YORK.  I’m still waiting for the FBI Clearance on official paper rather than the digital copy that will show the same information!!!

Time is running out and I’ve got people in all directions asking,

“So when are you going to know?”

“Will you stay or will you go?”

“We are still awaiting documents…”


Categories nyc

If I Could Stay

Kagan Strategies:  Get the kids moving and fully engaged.

A group of newer teachers went all the way to Texas to attend a conference on how to use timers, numbered seats, color coordinated seating charts, and spinners to randomly choose kids to participate.  I love the refresher…but my, oh my, how I’ve wasted all this time teaching when I could instead package everything teachers have already been doing for centuries in a pretty little book.

My desk full of books, bears and Starbucks cards

I am grateful for this opportunity to teach outside of New York.  It feels good to be treated like a human by administrators.  The staff looks out for each other.  It’s nice to have parents show their appreciation with books, candy and Starbucks.  It’s been really nice having small comforts like a kitchen in the lounge, birthday lunches and Teacher Work from Home Days.  The professional development opportunities have been meaningful and considerate of our time.

And kids are really kids.  I’ve got tons of sweet ones, bright stars, goofy jokesters and a few who make the day feel long,   What I am truly grateful for is this chance to see the stark difference between the haves and have-nots. The inequalities are simple, yet, vast.

1) The Copy Machine:  After running off copies of a packet, I sat in the lounge stapling them together.  One of the English teachers on my team walked in and asked, “What are you doing?”


“But the copy machine does that!”


She walked in another time while I was correlating copies and burst out laughing.

The next day before starting our Content Team meeting, she said, “We are starting today with a copy machine tutorial for Nancy.”

I explained how I made it through 14 years without a copy machine.  In New York, the teachers pooled together money to buy a copy machine and maintain it.  I didn’t think I could afford the “Copy Machine Membership” so I used a high-power printer and bought recycled ink to make copies when necessary.  I got the printer and paper through a grant. The Ink cost about $50 per year.

2) Field Trips:  We took the entire 7th grade on a trip to the Newseum in DC this past week. Over $5000 was spent on 8 luxury buses for a quick 30 minute ride. Students toured the museum with parent chaperones while I monitored the whole thing.  We passed out vouchers for students to eat $13 of whatever they wanted from the cafe and then watched as they broke out $20’s for ice cream, coffee, and trinkets at the gift shop.  Several teachers that came along spent the day relaxing in the cafeteria, reading magazines because we had more than enough chaperones. I spent the day running up and down 6 floors of exhibits checking on all 15 groups of 11.  Ok, running down 6 flights and taking the elevator up…

In New York, transportation on trips is via yellow buses that sometimes cancelled at the last minute. There were never enough chaperones, so the morning of each trip was usually me begging an administrator to allow an aide to come along so we wouldn’t have to cancel.

Then there were the black plastic bags my students would show up with.  They were usually full of junk food (chips, soda, and maybe a bagel).   We would bring the free lunch they were entitled to on every trip, but no one ever wanted to eat it.  So I’d have the buses drop us off at Burger King, 3 blocks away from school.  They’d scrounge up all they could for dollar menu fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.

Most of our trips were either free or under $12 or we wouldn’t get enough students who could afford to go.  I miss their grateful little faces after every trip.  Not a lot of teachers would do the work required to take them out.

Miss my NYC Kids

3) Parent involvement:  in Ozone Park, I remember sitting at my desk for hours on parent/teacher conference night, waiting for someone to stop in.  But so many parents don’t speak English and many more don’t work 9-5 hours in the city that never sleeps.

Here, they don’t even schedule a parent/teacher conference night because parents are in the school all the time.  I walk into picture day and there are parents all over the place.  I walk into the book fair and there are parents all over the place.  Our trips have both moms and dads volunteering.  On Valentine’s Day, I had several “candy-grams” from kind families.  For Christmas, I made a huge wishlist that parents and students kindly fulfilled.  The community has an extremely positive relationship with the school.

Based on the number of  parent emails and conferences requested because Timmy’s progress report was not favorable so let’s ask the teacher what she’s doing wrong…I’d say parent schedules are much more flexible around here.

I don’t miss the torture of standardized tests and data collection that pervades the school environment in New York.  It exists in Virginia, but it’s way more relaxed and up to the teacher to design and use it.

If I could stay, I’d be very happy.  I could teach another 15 years in this environment.  But this principal is set to retire in a few more years.  I’ve never met anyone like her.  She sets the tone for success, kindness, and work-place happiness.  And she’s from New York! Can we make more principals like this please?

My Fellow English Teacher and I on the terrace of the Newseum in DC
Categories nyc

In the Last Hour of 2016

Would it be too cliche to say that 2016 was a roller coaster of a year?  It’s a good thing I like a thrilling roller coaster!

The High Point:  Realizing I Could Leave

I graduated my 9th middle school class in New York City – and walked right out of the school building with them.  I loved my years as a teacher in New York City Public Schools, but this needed to be my last year with them.  For now.  Perhaps the political climate will change.  Perhaps there will be more focus on the teaching of children and not the accountability of a product.  All the joy I felt teaching my classes got swept away with the pressures from Administration, Common Core, Standardized Tests and Buzz Words.  I was so fortunate to be hired by a community that placed little value on tests and more value on engagement of students.  Stepping away has allowed me to grow and focus on areas of teaching that were not possible in New York – collaboration with other teachers, project based learning and educational technology that got stuck behind the “Crime Scene” tape in NYC.  It’s amazing what can be done when you have the freedom to just teach!

My desk

Bulletin board behind my desk

The Low Point:  I’m Still Leaving

I’m quite a bit further from family and friends than I was before and it’s challenging.  So many have come to visit, which always makes for a great time.  But it’s tough not spending every Friday night at my Mom’s house with my sisters and all the kids.  It’s odd not having someone to dial up and go out for sushi on a whim.  Baby Z sometimes says, “I miss my old house.” and even Baby D will cry, “I want to go home.”  Where will home be when we’re done traveling abroad?  Are we being fair to them by going so far away from family?

Best part about moving away? VISITORS!

2017: Live Life

This is not much of a resolution but here goes:  Keep working on being the best version of myself I can be.  The best mom I can be, the best wife I can be, the best daughter, sister, cousin, friend etc.  Stay healthy.  Be kind.  Be welcoming.  See the world.

I don’t know if I should be as proud as I am of myself for all that I’ve accomplished, but I am.  I have a family, a career, and dreams. I’ve got a few people reading my blog too!

Happy 2017!

Categories nyc

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

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

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