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

The Earth Awaits — Go Curry Cracker!

GCC: Before we retired I looked long and hard for International cost of living/travel data. What I found was limited, vague, or outdated. Since then many sites and blogs have offered new data or a new approach. Recently I found a new favorite… The Earth Awaits. Others like it too; it is currently featured on…

via The Earth Awaits — Go Curry Cracker!

Categories nyc

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

On the 1st Day of Your New Job

On the 1st day of your new job:

  • You will be wearing a crisp, professional suit and stand out in a crowd of shorts and t-shirts.  No biggie.  It’s better to make a good 1st impression.
  • You will need a Venti because you didn’t sleep the night before…preparing for said outfit.
  • You will try to resist, without success, comparing everything to your last job.
  • Your eyes will glaze over from information overload at some point.
  • You will wonder why you didn’t move on sooner.

It was a tough decision, but North Virginia has won us over!  At the start of the summer, I had put in applications all over the country – or at least, anywhere we had family members.  I was quickly hired by an international school in Washington DC.  But a week later, I was hired by a gifted program in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  A week after that, I was offered a job at a middle school in the country’s best school district.  I went back and forth and lost plenty of sleep…DC would be exciting but very little difference from NYC.  NC would be a stark difference from NYC, but politics and extra licensure work presented a challenge.

So, here we are in the perfect median.  North Virginia – it’s not NYC and it’s not the boonies.  It’s 4.5 hours from our family in New York and 4.5 hours from our family in Chapel Hill.  It’s city and woods, ritzy yet down to earth, far away from it all and yet a pretty little drive to so much!

I am doing something I never thought I’d do, however, and that is teach in an affluent neighborhood.  I always thought my talents were best suited for inner city kids.  I figured wealthy kids don’t need a teacher like me – they would be successful with or without me. My thinking has completely changed thanks to the work I did while applying for the position in Chapel Hill.

The Principal gave me this challenge:  design a lesson/unit that would make wealthy, gifted, American children aware of their privilege and empathetic to current issues.  Where do I even begin with something like that? As I thoughtfully prepared a unit on injustice, I realized that children everywhere need a teacher like me…and I’m not just tooting my own horn here.  Children everywhere need to be more aware of their privilege and empathetic to today’s issues.  I’ve always taught global citizenship to help unify my diverse student population.  That’s not going to really change…if there’s any hope for this world, it’s young people who care about people all over the world and who take the lead in positive changes.

At orientation this week, the Principal made two statements that reassured me that I had made the right decision.

1 – “We are a service administration.  We are here to serve you.  You don’t work for us, we work for you.”

2 – “We don’t expect you to be here until 8 pm every night, although I know some of you will be here late many times.  I believe in priorities and mine our God, family, and then work.  Your priorities should be the same.

I wanted to applaud but I didn’t, of course, because I’d look like a kiss-ass.  I feel like a refugee being welcomed into the arms of a warm, loving family.  It’s a completely different vibe from what I had in New York.  Which leads me to the next, shocking statement:

3 – “We have plenty of money, so if you need anything, just ask.  Don’t go spending your own money!


Dear Sally,

“Dear Sally…”

I’m posting from a dorm room at Columbia University, my home for the next week.  Yeah, I know, Felicity was supposedly attending NYU but this has the same vibe.  I’ve got suite-mates from around the country, a really hard twin bed, and a meal plan with my student ID card.

I was selected to attend a Gilder Lehrman Seminar at Columbia University back in May…just after accepting the job in Abu Dhabi.  I remember worrying that I might not be able to attend because this is the same week teachers were told to be prepared to leave.  We would have been leaving this Thursday, in fact.  A number of teachers have received their “Golden Ticket” and are on their way!  Congrats to them!

This week I will not be put up in a 5 star hotel nor will I have to deal with 130 degree weather.  Instead, I am in a tiny dorm room around the corner from Teachers College at Columbia University with 93 degree weather.  Pretty hot for NYC!  This particular seminar focuses on the history of immigration in the US.  For one whole week, I will be attending classes, going on field trips and designing lesson plans on immigration.  Oh, did I mention, I’m living in a dorm room?


The professor, Mae Ngai, wrote The Lucky Ones, a book on Chinese Immigration in the late 1800’s.  The concept of migrating as a calculated move to better one’s situation resonates so much with me right now. Here are my choices:

A) International School in Washington DC

B) Gifted Program in Chapel Hill, NC

C) Middle School English position in an affluent neighborhood in McLean, VA

I feel like I cast too wide of a net, but isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when seeking a job?  I had no idea I’d have to weigh so many options.  Which do I choose?  Figuring hubby can work anywhere, we have family in each location, and each offer a fair salary for the cost of living…which do I choose?

As I walked back into class after getting the call that I’d been hired in NC, I got mixed reviews from teachers from the south.  “Aw that’s a beautiful place to live!” and “You DO NOT want to go there.”  From the one teacher that was actually from North Carolina, all she could say over and over was that, “It will be a culture shock.”

What do you think?

You may be asking, “Why not stay in New York?”  The pay and benefits surpass all other options.  That’s what my peers are asking.  “Why do you want to leave New York?”

I tell them about Abu Dhabi and explain, “We were going to leave anyway.  Might as well take advantage of all our prep work and go ahead and move.”  We may never be this prepared to move again.  It might even be now or never.  Felicity Porter could have stayed, gone to Stanford, and become a doctor.  It made sense.  Instead she foolishly followed a boy to New York.  I don’t want to be foolish, but I can’t not explore these options.

Technically, we’ve already left New York.  On June 30th we put the rest of our belongings into storage and began our family road trip.  We traveled up to New York’s Hudson Valley and down to Baltimore, MD.  We’ve enjoyed Shenandoah National Park in VA and the food scene in Georgetown, DC.  Last week we were laid back in Durham, NC until we crossed paths with a garden snake.  That may be a sign from God right there.

We are still not ready to make a decision as to where to call home. There’s only one thing that is certain:

Sometimes, in order to teach in New York City, you have to leave it for a little while.

Shenandoah National Park

Moving Still

I love reading The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez with my students. It’s the story of a Mexican Family who cross the border (illegally) and the constant moving that comes with being migrant farm workers. The main character, Panchito, struggles to learn the language and strives to balance school and helping his family.  

When the author spoke to a group of educators decades later, he thanked his teachers for seeing him through the toughest period of his life and inspiring him to keep moving forward. Every year, since hearing Jimenez speak, I’ve read his book with my students and have been amazed with their ability to connect with someone whose life is so completely different from theirs. The themes are so strong despite the vast space between time and place – social inequalities, faith, friendships lost, the family dynamic – I am still moved to tears as Panchito recites the lines from The Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”  The words have not changed but we are still fighting to see them hold true. 

In the pursuit of happiness, we have decided to keep moving. It’s not going to be the UAE but it will be a new place with new opportunities. It will allow me to grow as an educator and gain experience with the International Baccalaureate Programme-a curriculum that should make me more marketable to schools abroad. This new opportunity will allow for my kids to attend top rated schools and begin dual-language study – a program I would love for them to have in New York but couldn’t manage without jumping through a lot of hoops or first selling a kidney. 

The offer is on the table. I just need to sign, scan and return. Am I ready to leave New York?

The last chapter of the book is titled “Moving still” and we have all had these moments when we’ve worked so hard for everything to finally go right, only to have it go so wrong. But if this child and his family found the will to never give up then we all can follow through with our dreams.  I have to admit, I love the evidence of learning I receive in students’ tears and cries of “Nooo!” that follow the last words on the page. 

Formative assessment: ✔️check!

Categories DC

How is She Holding Up?

Upon receiving an offer to teach abroad:

1-Congratulations!  Welcome to the emotional rollercoaster trumped only by being married and having children!

2-Please remember that the Offer Letter that you are asked to sign, date and initial is NOT a contract.  Lesson learned.

3-DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB.  Lesson learned through the sad stories of teachers hired for January 2016, only to be left in the dark until April 2016 that their departure was pushed to August 2016.  Then, in some cases, the offers were cancelled.  DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB until you have a plane ticket.  Even then, try to take a leave of absence and not resign.

4-DO NOT sell everything!  I am very fortunate to have found out I am not going to be moving to the UAE before selling my beloved bed and plush couch.  Two pieces of furniture getting a lot of use since having my offer rescinded.

It has been 2 weeks since we got the sudden letter of rejection.  Words of encouragement to “keep trying!” and “don’t give up!” have been pouring in until about a day ago.  Then everyone returned to their regular lives.  Except us.

I don’t mean to sound defeatist…I want to give you a positive proverb or two on keeping the faith, but it’s not looking too bright.  My Teach Away Rep seems to have dropped me.  She doesn’t respond to my emails so I doubt she is being proactive in finding me a new position.  Me, on the other hand, I’ve been applying, emailing, scanning, networking, searching, following-up, phone interviewing, and skyping every hour of every day (and sometimes in my sleep – some of these recruiters are located around the world!)

But nothing is coming up.  I think I’ve put in all the time I can to this.  This weekend I took up binge watching “Lost” because that’s exactly how I feel.

I’ve got 3 timelines to consider:

June 28th – School ends.  I need to spend some time packing up my room. Or not.

June 30th – We are moving out of our townhouse.  Yep, we are going to be one of those homeless Abu Dhabi Hopefuls 2016.  We gave our landlords notice back in May and now they’ve gone and sold the house!  Good for them, bad for us.  I have no idea where we are moving to!

September 8th – School Starts up again here in NYC.  In 9 weeks we need to find a new place to live and decide if we even want to stay in New York. We could move to Virginia/DC area or move to North Carolina.  We have family in each of these areas willing to help us transition into a new life.  Or do we decide to stay in New York?  What would Suze Orman say?

So, while I’m not giving up, I’m not feeling so NYC Teacher Abroad anymore.  I’m feeling like NYC-Teacher-Stays-Her-A$$-In-The-US.  At least for one more year.

5 – Make peace with your decision and keep going for it.  

I’m going to be ok!

A Dream Deferred

It was all a dream. 

I dreamt I signed a contract to teach abroad. I dreamt I was offered more money than I make here. I dreamt I would have flight allowances to travel the world, a bonus each year, and housing provided for my family. It was all a dream. 

Yet, you’ve seen a picture of me signing a contract, right?  Today, that contract was rescinded and I am no longer headed to the UAE. My dream has been put on hold. The Abu Dhabi Education Council has decided they hired too many people so they cut a few. 

Crying and shaking I ran out of my building today, hoping no one would notice. As soon as I sat in my car, it started to downpour. I cried a good five minutes with the rain concealing me from others walking out of work. How? Why? 

I called my husband and choked out the news. I text my interview friends for support. I checked the 2016 Abu Dhabi groups on fb and found I was not the only one – so far I’ve counted 20 teachers who got the same sad news. What a cruel joke. 

I am not going to be a teacher for ADEC. Not this year, anyway. I’m not sure if ever. My heart feels a little broken. I’m upset for my family and the tears I may have caused others who were trying to make peace with our decision to move. I’m upset for my husband who did so much running around to get our paperwork together. I’m upset that I sold my favorite blue chair and beautiful swirly mirror during one of our yard sales!  I am so lucky my kids don’t quite get where we were headed or I’d be upset for them too. 

Is this a sign? Do I keep applying and searching for a job abroad? Or do I stay put here in New York, where I have a perfectly good job? Is this a dream deferred? Or canceled?

Categories nyc