A Year in D.C.

I’m not quite sure that the cemetery they decided to rest your ashes in is actually in the center of Queens.  But standing in front of the majestic mauseoleum, I can see the Manhattan skyline. I see rows of graves on a pleasant incline, a few grand trees offering shade.  On one side of the cemetery is a Queens stuck in the past and on the other side is Queens embracing the future.  The two of you, in the center of it all.  I know you didn’t come all this way to stop here.  I know you would tell me to live.  Breathe deep and then run.  Go and don’t be afraid.

It’s coming up on a year since we left New York.  The decision to leave our life in a hectic city and try out a new, slightly less, hectic city has had it’s highs and lows.  I’m amazed at how a huge disappointment led to a year of learning, exploration, and what feels something like “Chasing the Sun” here in North Virginia/D.C.   I’ll admit, it is not the calm, wooded scene I thought we were looking for.  In fact, a few weeks after we moved here, we were visiting family in North Carolina, enjoying the silence, and hubby says, “I think we made a mistake.”

But it hasn’t been.  Not for either of us.  I gained a whole new perspective in education by working with a forward-thinking school.  It was the jolt to my teaching system that I needed.  Privileged or poor, middle schoolers are in an “all about me” stage.  I got them to see the value in their unique talents and how it makes a positive difference in the world.  

My husband left his accounting job in New York and delved into filmmaking.  Once a hobby, it is now a blossoming career.  He filmed an event recently and I asked him, “Did you enjoy it?” and he quickly responded, “I would have done it for free!”  He filmed Rita Moreno at the Kennedy Center and completed a film program at George Washington University!  Makes that ping-pong table at his old office look really pathetic.  A recent comedian commented that Immigrants have 4 career choices – Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer or Accountant.  I get why he thought being an accountant was a good idea…ok, no I don’t.  Accounting sounds boring as hell.

And the kids?  My 4 year old is studying art techniques and swimming full time.  The 2 year old has perfected his station as Daddy’s best buddy, Mommy’s sweet angel and his Big Sister’s worst nightmare.  He studies trains and dinosaurs at length and can list creatures of the Jurassic better than he can recite his ABC’s.  They’re fine even if, for a while, they kept asking when are we going home? And why does it take so long to get to Gabby and Sophia’s house now?

As I write this, I’m not sure if we are staying or going.  We hope to be going, but still no confirmation.  Staying will be expensive – it’s no cheaper to live here than it was in New York.  In fact, it is more expensive as our kids need private education until they’re both 5!  The cost of pre-school here is somewhere up there with the cost of college tuition.  But staying would mean more learning for me and more career development for him.  Our kids…I’m not worried about keeping them home a bit longer.  I can’t see my 2 year old sitting in a classroom anyhow.

Grandma, Grandpa, I can’t say I will visit you here often because, I know you’re not here.  You’re somewhere beyond the sun, soaking in the rays, hand in hand. You’re looking at me half smiling and half laughing because you already know what will happen.  Your children all left at some point.  Two joined the Navy.  Two went home to Ecuador.  The two girls off and married.  Each and everyone came back, eventually.  Even the one uncle, the one who headed off to Texas and seemed to never come back – he’s back now.  Now! Even though you’re gone.  And I don’t think he’s leaving again.  It’s not even about New York.  Screw New York.  it’s about you.  We all just want to be near you.  Someday, I will be back too.

So what has life been like in a new city?  What’s it like to pick up and leave New York after  30+ years of living there?  The series of posts to follow will give you an idea of the ups and downs of moving your family to a new city, DC, and life outside of New York.  

Grandma, Grandpa, and Mom in the 1970’s.

I’ll be channeling Sara Bareilles as we go as she seems to be singing my soul right now.

https://youtu.be/hNkmQmh3zww?list=RDhNkmQmh3zww

Chasing the Sun – Sara Bareilles

It’s a really old city

Stuck between the dead and the living

So I thought to myself,

Sitting on a graveyard shelf

As the echo of heartbeats,

From the ground below my feet

Filled a cemetery

In the center of Queens…

You said, remember that life is

Not meant to be wasted

We can always be chasing the sun!

So fill up your lungs and just run

But always be chasing the sun!

All we can do is try

And live like we’re still alive

All we can do is try

And live like we’re still alive


***Update***

Confirmed to depart for my 1st teaching job abroad on August 3rd!

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Amor Eterno

She lived for 104 years.

She saw the world transform – from the mountains of Ecuador to the peaks of New York City buildings.  From radio to the television screen sizes.  She lived so many different lives – a daughter, sister, a Mother of 6, and the wife of a man who dreamed of coming to America.  She was a seamstress in New York City as so many immigrant women were.  She was strong enough to keep going, despite the small apartment, the rough subways, and the language barrier.

She is America, my Grandmother and the matriarch of our family.  She had a way of making 3 small pots of food feed everyone who came to visit – her 6 children, 11 grandchildren and, eventually, 15 great grandchildren and even 2 great-great- grandchildren!  Her biggest fan, Luis, my grandfather, always got the 1st plate. She and my Grandfather founded a family whose story breaks cultural barriers and defines what it means to be an American.  We define what it means to be a New Yorker.

But I only know the part where I came in.  The part where I know for certain that I am my Grandmother’s favorite.  How do I know this?  Because I am the one my cousins would get to ask permission to go places.  Like, if we wanted to go to the park, they’d pay me with quarters to go ask Grandma.

“She likes you, you ask.”

“She’s Grandma.  She likes all of us….”

“No, no, she likes you most because you read a lot.  You’re ‘responsible.'”

The funny thing is that I never really learned how to speak Spanish fluently.  And my Grandmother never learned to speak English at all.  Our conversations were a special type of Spanglish on both ends.

“Quiero vas a la park”

“Que?”

“The park”

“Al parque?  Si, si, via con cuidado. Before I could run off to the bunch hiding on the porch, she’d laugh and say, “Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”

Off we would go, my cousins Stephanie and Omar and my sister Lisa.   Off to the park 2 blocks away, up the steep hill and stairs of death, in Woodside, Queens, New York.  We’d get Omar to push all us girls on the tire swing, we’d run like mad children, chasing each other with sticks.  We would stay there forever, but I swear we could hear her calling us to come home from 2 city blocks away.

At Grandma’s house, we would eat what she made or starve because there was no ordering out or frozen options.  Rice, beans, chicken.  Rice, soup, bread.  Rice, beans, steak.  Rice, beans, fish.  No matter what, it would always taste delicious.  I didn’t like red meat or fish at the time, but when Grandma made it, I ate it.  It had a unequivocal flavor, not even my own mother could replicate.  At the end of every meal, we would walk our plates to the sink, give her a kiss and say, “Gracias Abuelita.”  I usually called her Grandma, but after a meal, this was the tradition.  Always kiss the chef!

We would beg to sleep over Grandma’s house.  Admittedly, not because we wanted to spend more time with her, but because we wanted to hang out with our cousins.  Grandma would put us all to bed around 8 pm.  Earlier if she could, but 8 pm, when the sun was still shining through the large windows of her big yellow house on a corner in Queens.  We would just about fall asleep when we would hear the tune of Mister Softee, the ice cream truck, coming down the block.

“Ask her if we can get ice cream.”

“Quiero Ice Cream.”

“Que? Helado?”

“Si.”

“Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”
I’m pretty sure the change in the tone of her voice signified that we should all get back to sleep…but I didn’t understand her at all when she yelled.  My Spanish was selective. Luckily, Grandpa would intercept and hand us all a dollar so we could all get ice cream. Mister Softee would stop right in front of their house and we’d make our purchases and hang out on the brick porch steps with the white aluminum awning.  We’d tell jokes, 


Eventually we’d get back to sleep on her plastic covered couches covered with her flowery sheets.

There are a few phrases I could exchange with Grandma, but mostly it was about “Escuela.”

“Te gusta Escuela?”

“Si, Grandma.”

“Esta bien.” and she might carry on a few minutes with words that I’m sure meant, “Getting an education is important.  Make sure you study.”

“Si, Grandma.”

She’d chuckle again and again  saying, “La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”

As she and Grandpa would leave our house, she’d secretly slip me $5, $10, $20 to spend. Actually, I’m sure she meant for me to save it, but I never did.

They both came to visit us where ever we were.  In North Carolina, In Hawaii.  In Hempstead.  In my many apartments/houses.  But when Grandpa passed away in 2010, she stopped leaving the house.  She was 96 at the time and she’d say over and over, “Everyone is gone.  I want to be with them.” or something to that effect.

But she just kept going.  She kept cooking, cleaning, and sitting by her window, watching who came in and out of the house.

Until the second week of June, when she started to complain of pain in her stomach.  They took her to the hospital and the doctors said there was a tumor.  But she’s too old to have surgery.  They sent her home with a Hospice nurse and said it could be days, even weeks.

I left Virginia for New York on Thursday, the day they sent her home.  I walked into the room and my mom told her it was me.  Her only true ailment up until this point was her eyesight.

“La Nina Nancy…” she sang, slowly, and then continued on in Spanish

“She says she’s dying.” my Mom translated.

I held her hand.  She was so thin.  So tiny.

Everyone left at that moment.  Uncle Luis went to get her water.  Uncle Santiago went to answer the phone.  The kids went off to play.

And she spoke to me.  But I couldn’t understand what she was saying.  I held her hand and listened.  But I had no response.  I figured I would find a few words to say to her tomorrow.  I said, “I love you.”

And she passed the next day.

We kissed her good-bye before they took her away.  “Gracias Abuelita.”

Omar, Stephanie, Lisa and I hugged each other a little bit harder and broke down in each other’s arms.  We each took turns trying to console Uncle Luis, who took care of her every day since Grandpa died.

Eventually I made it outside to the backyard and I watched the children play.  They didn’t really have any idea what had happened.  Most of them won’t remember her at all.   But there they were, running up and down the side of the house like we once did.  Riding on a little Fisher Price horse on wheels that used to belong to Omar.  Kicking the ball out into the street and waiting for a kind stranger to return it as they walked by.  Asking for ice cream when the truck came by.

I looked up at the Yellow House my Grandfather bought so many years ago and how so many of us were lucky enough to feel like this is home, thanks to her.

I made a video using all the pictures we could find of her, but we didn’t have many of her younger years.  We played it at the funeral home and now the song, “Amor Eterno,” is forever etched in my brain.  I would have liked to find photos of her as a young girl, long before any of us came along.  But there just aren’t any.  Just a headshot of her with my Grandpa, smiling and leaning on each other.  I don’t know what year it is from, but they’re both young.  There’s the one of them both by the fence that used to surround the house.  Another of her by the train when my Mom was very young.  Maybe we’ll find more in Ecuador.


Gracias Abuelita for the beautiful home you made, the love you gave us all and the bravery you had for venturing into the unknown in hopes of giving your children the best life possible.

This is Not the End

If there is a reason for everything, then there is a reason why I didn’t go to Abu Dhabi last year. Actually, I think there’s quite a few reasons why. but that’s a post for another day.

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. 

Signed,

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.