Welcome, Summer!

Summer 2017-Day 01: Welcome, Summer!

Today is one of my most favorite days of the year! Memorial Day weekend signals the unofficial start of the summer season here along the Jersey Shore, but today it’s official. I’m celebrating the Summer Solstice by embracing and appreciating everything SUMMER and all that comes along with it.

The first day of summer, to me, is a bold reminder that anything is possible this season. Summer’s newness is a fresh start…time to begin anything again or for the first time. The only goals I have are to write and to live with appreciation while having fun.

Along my boardwalk walk this morning, I stopped frequently to take in the sights, the sounds, and the smells I encountered as my feet headed north. The aroma of the coffee brewing from the coffee house combined with the sweet smells of the sea air and the cotton candy that was being prepped for the day stopped me in my tracks…so delicious! The beaches were dotted with umbrellas here and there as they weren’t crowded just yet. Most badge checkers and lifeguards were still prepping the beach for the day. A local morning radio show was broadcasting outside of the Aquarium, with a few penguins, snakes, and a tiny alligator along with plenty of Aquarium staff as their on-air guests. I strolled along, stopping here and there to take a photo, and when I reached the Inlet end I was pleasantly surprised to find it empty. I sat in one of the new white, rocking chairs and relaxed there in solitude, rocking for about ten minutes. I took in all of the sights of the Inlet, from the west to the north to the east and observed the calm meeting of the current and the sea, quite rare for the mouth of the Inlet I can assure you. Then it was time to turn around and head back south down the boardwalk. One of the benches near the Inlet was decorated with red, white, and blue bows, and was dedicated in memory of Cpl. Kevin J. Reinhard from Woodbridge, NJ, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012. I paused for a moment of silence to honor his legacy. I once again took my time as songs from my summer playlist played quietly through my earbuds, but not too loud to hear the occasional hellos and “Good Morning!”s from passerbys. I made sure to reply to each well wisher with a smile and a kind hello. As I took a picture of the palm fronds with the blue sky as a backdrop, a small plane entered the viewfinder at just the right time. I turned around and took a few photographs of the empty ride area and thought about how full of activity it would be in a matter of a few hours with children and adults laughing as they soared into the sky or spun around and around. I am glad I moved at my own pace because it made for a more meaningful experience.

When I returned back home, I took pictures of each day lily that bloomed today and picked a handful of ripe blueberries to add to yesterday’s till. I spent almost two hours at the library researching my family history after receiving a few more emails from my new cousins with more details about my Grandpa C.’s side (stay tuned for that update!). We took two beach runs and I’m now writing this outside on my lounge chair as the goldfinches and the house finches and the sparrows eat while the catbird sings for me. The bees are busy at the clover flowers and there’s a stillness as a few storm clouds are approaching from the west. And with the Severe Thunderstorm Alerts I just received, it’s time to head back inside.

It was a glorious day this Day 01 of Summer 2017, rumbles of thunder and all. Truly glorious.

I hope your day was glorious, too.

Until next time,

Jill

PS: The deluge of rain that’s now wreaking havoc outside? I still find it glorious. 🙂

PART THREE OF “THE UNIVERSE IS AT IT AGAIN!”: Welcome to Family!

This is Part Three in a series of posts titled “The Universe Is At It Again!” To read Part One, please click here. To read Part Two, please click here.

The other interesting feature on my report is that Ancestry matches my DNA up with others who have already had their DNA tested, and then provides links to possible family members with percentage probabilities that they are, indeed, a relative of some kind.

For instance, Ancestry was “extremely confident” the name on the top of my list was a second cousin. They were right. It is my mom’s cousin DM.

I have a very small family, so the large number of names on my list of potential “relatives” intrigued me.  I was going to wait until the end of the month to begin poking around, but last week, I showed a fellow teacher my report because he was interested in getting his own DNA analyzed and wanted to see what it was all about.

The second name on my list of potential relatives or matches, one that Ancestry had labeled “extremely high” that this person was my second cousin, is a gentleman, AT, from Minnesota. I clicked on his profile as I showed my friend how cool it was that this information was available, even though I had no idea who AT was. We didn’t have family in Minnesota, so who could this guy be?

I read the first few sentences of the AT’s profile out loud, then paused mid-sentence. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I then yelled, “Holy shit!” My friend looked at me, as did the others who were around us, as my mouth gaped wide open and my eyes became as big as saucers.

The man in the profile, AT, wrote that his mother, K, was adopted, and he listed her birth parents’ names and her original last name.

Her birth parents’ names were the same as my Grandpa C.’s, the one who I thought was Irish, and he and K shared the same last name.

Holy shit, indeed.

Grandpa had a sister I never knew about.

Mind blown. Literally.

I never would have expected this in a million years. Finding missing family members only happens in the movies or in books, or to other people who lead much more interesting lives. It doesn’t happen to little old me.

But here it was, right in front of me. K is my Grandpa C.’s sister, my Uncle G and my father’s aunt, my great aunt. The DNA confirms it.

I couldn’t contain my excitement and raced home after dismissal to write AT a message. “I think my grandfather was your mother’s brother,” I typed, along with some other details and my email address, then hit send with a ridiculous grin on my face.

I anxiously checked for a reply all day Tuesday, but none came. No worries, though, as I had an afternoon date with my nephew, I, for our annual early summer boardwalk excursion. We had a lot of fun on the rides, at the aquarium, and enjoying pizza and ice cream. By the time I got home, I was exhausted!

I drifted off to sleep rather quickly, slept right through the night, and hit snooze as soon as my alarm went off on Wednesday morning. On the alarm’s second ring, I hit snooze again, but something was nagging at me to check my email. I put on my glasses, opened my mailbox, and there it was.

A reply from AT’s sister.

Scratch that.

A reply from my first cousin once removed, KT.

KT is one of seven children born to my great Aunt K (including AT). That’s at least seven new first cousins for my Uncle G. KT said that her sisters and brother all live in various parts of the country, and that they have been looking for her mother’s brother’s family for a long time.

Man, my father would have loved all of this!

Grandpa C.

KT included three photographs with her email, one being her mother’s favorite photo of her brother from when Grandpa C. was very young. Aunt K kept it all this time.

At work, I held up that picture of Grandpa C. alongside my face, and almost everyone remarked at the resemblance between the two of us.

Before writing KT back, I knew I had to tell my Uncle G about this amazing discovery, so I headed over to his house after school. As I began to read KT’s email to him, I handed him the three pictures that accompanied the email.

Uncle G got up as I was reading and handed me a framed picture from his table.

It was the same picture of Grandpa that KT emailed to me, her mother’s favorite picture of her brother.

Uncle G and I talked about what he could remember Grandpa’s family.  He thought all along that Grandpa might have had a sister that was put up for adoption, but he was never sure if that was true or not. He knew Grandpa’s father wasn’t in the picture at all but doesn’t know anything at all about him, and that Grandpa had an older brother but he never met him (nobody knows where he ended up either; apparently my father was named after him). Uncle G told me what could recall about his grandmother, S, who was Grandpa’s and Aunt K’s mother, but it wasn’t very much.

I brought the picture book he gave me last summer with me.  We slowly paged through it and found two old black and white pictures of a light-haired little girl, each with Aunt K’s name written in pencil on it.

Grandpa had kept his sister’s pictures all along, too.

Uncle G couldn’t believe all of this and loved learning he had cousins. He hates technology and has never used a computer or a smart phone at all, so seeing my Ancestry report on my phone and how I could click on the links blew his mind.

Me Holding Grandpa C.’s Picture

I took a picture of Uncle G and of me holding that framed picture of Grandpa that KT had emailed to me, as well as some other pictures of Grandpa from his life. When I got home, I wrote KT back and emailed her all of the photos I had, including the two pictures of her mom.

On Friday, AT sent me an email, so I am now in contact with two new cousins. Of course, both sides have a lot of questions, and we all wish that Grandpa and Aunt K could have connected with each other before they passed on. Underneath all of our excitement, there are some threads of sadness interweaving with this miraculous story. Consider that Aunt K and Grandpa lived two towns away from each other in the early 1940s but never knew it.

This is the stuff novels are made of, and I’m living it!

I’m looking forward to staying in touch with my new cousins and to learning more about my family heritage. One of the first places I am going once school is finished is to the library to continue researching my background.

If it weren’t for my spirit guide, I’d never be on this path in my journey in the first place. Thanks, TG, for leading me to family. And thanks to the Universe. You never cease to amaze me.

All I wanted to know is if I was truly Irish.

With the payoff from that originally disappointing less-than-1%-Irish being a whole new lot of cousins that I never knew existed, I’ll gladly take it.

Welcome to Family.

PART TWO OF “THE UNIVERSE IS AT IT AGAIN!”: AN ANSWER

If you missed Part One, click here to read that first because this post continues my story…

Fast forward to April 2017. With another trip to Dublin booked for this coming August and an overhaul of the novel I am writing, I decided to get my DNA analyzed from Ancestry.

I figured, what the hell? Maybe I’d be able to clear up that Galicia/Austria/Russia/Poland confusion, but most of all, I was hoping to learn that I was, indeed Irish.

I ordered my Ancestry kit with a $20 off discount and it arrived on April 29. The kit provides specific instructions about how to spit into the little sample tube they provided.

I know, I thought the same thing: Why do I need instructions?

Well, it turns out that the process of spitting saliva into the tube took longer than I thought. I first had to activate my kit on my computer, and before attempting my saliva collection, I had to wait 30 minutes after eating or drinking anything.

When those 30 minutes were up, I followed the directions to collect my saliva, but since I couldn’t have any water, it took a long time to collect the right amount (minus bubbles, mind you).

Once I had enough of my saliva in the tube, I clicked the tube together to release the “stabilizing fluid.” I then packed it in the little, prepaid shipping box it came with and mailed it on Monday, May 1. I received an email on May 5 that it was received on Ancestry’s end and that it would take 6 to 8 weeks to receive my results. My sample hit Ancestry’s lab on May 23 with another disclaimer that it could still take 6 to 8 weeks due to high demand.

I was prepared to coast through the rest of the school year and the first part of summer without knowing my heritage, but eleven days later on June 3, I received my results via email. Little did I know the very unexpected and wonderful surprises the universe had waiting for me!

First of all, here’s my heritage:

Great Britain: 57%. I figured this would be a high number, and I was right. Must be why I love teaching British literature and bland food.

Scandinavian: 13%. Shocking! I had no idea I was of Scandinavian descent. When I tell people this, most look at me funny because I have blonde hair and blue eyes. Some have said, “Well, it’s obvious you are Scandinavian,” and aren’t surprised at all. However, if you look at my family as a whole, the only three people with the typical Scandinavian features of light hair and light eyes are me, my Grandpa C., and my 3-year-old nephew, I. My dad and uncle were both blonde when they were young, but their hair changed and their eyes weren’t blue. Again, must be why I love teaching about the Vikings and Beowulf! Let’s go a Viking!

Europe East: 10%. This is the line that extends to Poland, Russia, Austria, Ukraine, Galicia, etc., so I expected this region to show up. I was hoping that the test would narrow down the actual country my Grandma C.’s parents actually emigrated from. However, an offshoot of my ancestry report clusters my DNA on a map of this region right where Galicia would have been, so I’m going with Galicia. Kielbasa for all!

Italy/Greece: 9%. WHAT? Seriously? I’m Italian or Greek? Holy cannoli! This shocked the daylights out of me. I would have guessed any other heritage before Italian/Greek. My husband was very pleased to learn that he did, indeed, marry an “Italian Girl.” His father would have been over the moon to learn that I had Italian heritage!

Europe West: 6%. Germany, Belgium, and France fall into this region.  My Grandma M.’s grandparents were born in Germany, so this wasn’t a big surprise. Confirmation: German. Dad’s up in heaven screaming “Yah vull!” right now.

Iberian Peninsula: 3%. Spain and Portugal make up the Iberian Peninsula, and this one was a nice surprise. Interesting fact: Portugal is directly across the Atlantic Ocean from where I live. Neat!

Ireland: Less than 1%. I am Irish after all! While I was initially disappointed, at least Ireland showed up. I’ll take it!

Caucasus: Less than 1%. I know what you are thinking…where the hell is Caucasus? It’s a region encompassing Georgia, Irian, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and more. Another Easter egg for sure.

On my report, I can click on each region to not only learn more about it, but also to take a closer look at my percentages and compare mine to other people from the same region. It’s pretty cool that I have a solid cluster in both the East Europe region (Galicia-the yellow spot in the map to the left) and also in a community called Early Settlers of New York.

But there’s more, a whole lot more to this story! Please look for Part 3 tomorrow!

A Letter to Two Heroes, Revisited On This Memorial Day

I have always remembered the reason for Memorial Day and Memorial Day weekend and have honored it by remembering those lost, going to a ceremony or two, putting flags in my yard, wearing red, white, and blue, or raising awareness through my writing. For me, the true meaning hit home twice, in 2010 and 2011, when two very special young men who spent time in my classroom paid the ultimate sacrifice, each with immense courage and bravery.

One is Sergeant Ronald A. Kubik, Army Ranger, and the other is Lance Corporal Nicholas S. Ott, United States Marine Corps.

Both are forever heroes.

On Friday, I taught my current journalism and English 11 students about these two heroes who sat in the same seats as them at some point in their lives. It’s important to me to keep Ron and Nick’s legacies alive with the hope that today’s generation can learn from them and possibly emulate something from each of their examples in their own lives. I am now toying with the idea of writing a curriculum unit for other teachers to use in their classrooms, not just necessarily focusing on Nick and Ron but on other New Jersey heroes lost in all conflicts.

Below is a letter to Ron and Nick that I originally wrote and posted in 2015. I updated it for 2017 as my thanks and tribute to both of them on this Memorial Day.

May 29, 2017

Dear Ron and Nick,

It’s been 15 and 13 years, respectively, that you were students in my English class.  You both sat at a desk for 180 days, Ron during 9th grade and Nick during 11th grade, and spent 50 minutes every day writing, reading, learning vocabulary, completing assignments, and earning your grade.  And during those 180 days, each of you made a lasting impact and taught lessons to someone who was supposed to be teaching you.

Ron, I will never forget how you read “Of Mice and Men” aloud in your best British accent, yet you read your part in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” with a thick, southern accent.  Laughter, that’s what I remember.  Pure laughter.  I remember you enjoyed writing, but as a freshman, you didn’t want to admit it.  How I wish I kept some of your essays and reflections, for they were good…much better than a typical 9th grader’s writing.  I remember your pride in your hometown, your blue mohawk, and your incredible effort on the football field, playing each game like it was the super bowl.  It wasn’t the same when you moved away, and there was a huge hole of missing spirit that couldn’t be filled by anyone else.  I am aware of the legacy you left at Manasquan High School and how you are still an inspiration in that building. Through the magic of social media, we caught up after you graduated and I enjoyed seeing the pictures of you in your band, and then as an Army Ranger.  I am sure the United States Army immediately knew that they were getting one of the best of the best. I know that you absolutely loved it when some of my students called you a badass merely from my verbal description of you. Then when they saw your pictures? Yeah. You loved every minute of their reactions and are still basking in that glow.

Nick, your smile and your work ethic are what I most remember about you.  No matter what it was you were doing, you always your best…in the classroom, on the field, on the stage…and you never, ever complained.  More often than not, you surprised even yourself by doing better than you ever expected, even though at times you weren’t a fan of what we were studying.  And that smile…that big, wonderful smile, with that impish spirit behind it…there’s no other smile like it.  I fondly remember your part in The Varsity Lettermen’s TWO acts for Hawkapalooza, working hard to perfect each routine, and selecting that perfect dress for your costume, the powder blue shift with the rhinestone broach.  That moment of greatness and sheer joy has never been matched on the Hawkapalooza stage since, except maybe the secret, surprise return of The Varsity Letterman the following year.  One of the best days in my life was the last time I saw you, when you were home on leave and stopped by the school for a visit after classes let out.  I was having an extremely bad day and wanted nothing more than to go home, and I got a call from the main office that someone was here to see me. That was the last thing I wanted, but my anguish was quickly replaced with excitement and happiness as I saw you round the corner of the hallway with that smile beaming as you walked down to my classroom.  We spent about 90 minutes catching up and talking, and those are the best 90 minutes I ever spent in my life.  While I don’t have a photograph of that moment, the picture in my mind’s eye is crystal clear, like it happened yesterday.

Words cannot express the extreme heartache and sadness that I, along with so many others, felt upon hearing the news that each of you had passed away.  In fact, I remember exactly where I was standing when I got the news about each of you.  Yet, upon learning that so many others were saved because of each of your actions, I had two new heroes to look up to for the rest of my life.

Not a day goes by when I do not think of both of you.  Several times every year, but especially on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I share your stories with my students who sit in the same desks that you did…stories of heroism, of bravery, and of courage.

I am forever grateful for the lessons you, the students, taught me, the teacher:

  • Actions, not words, matter.
  • Make your dreams a reality.
  • Put others before yourself.
  • Have an amazing life.

Thank you, Nick and Ron, for your lessons, for your sacrifice, and for leaving footprints along my life’s journey that can never be erased.  I will do my best to continue sharing your legacies and your stories for as long as I can.

With my utmost admiration, gratitude, honor, and respect.

Not everyone has a connection to someone to honor on Memorial Day. If you don’t, please visit my links below so you can learn more about Sgt. Ronald A. Kubik and Cpl. Nicholas S. Ott. You can also pick someone to learn about by visiting the NJ Run for the Fallen Honor Wall and the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial & Museum Wall of Faces.

Regardless of your politics, I urge you to take a moment this weekend to honor what the day means and stands for. Educate the young people in your life about the true meaning of Memorial Day and about real heroes like Nick and Ron and the thousands of others who gave their lives for the United States of America. Attend a local ceremony or service for an hour, and/or join in the National Moment of Silence at 3 PM Tomorrow.

Thank you to all the men and women who gave their lives while serving our country. I am grateful for your sacrifice and I honor your memory.

Until next time,

Jill

Image from NJ Run for the Fallen
Image from NJ Run for the Fallen
Image from Her Beautiful Monster - Mandi Bean
Image from Her Beautiful Monster – Mandi Bean

When You Least Expect The Answers, They Come

It’s been a while since I posted, but my absence is for very good reasons. Between my last post (“High Tide Low,” which was wrought with doubt) and now, I completed my work for the spring issue of Jersey Shore Magazine. The issue is now online…if you’d like to take a look at it, click here. I wrote four articles (and loved every single one of my topics for this issue) and provided photography and editorial work.

Anyway, with the magazine work done, my creativity was not as constrained. Then a truly amazing thing happened, and those elusive answers I’ve been searching for aren’t so elusive anymore….

Without warning, the floodgates opened and my fingers got to work. The words keep on coming, over 21,000 as of yesterday, and they aren’t anywhere near stopping. All of the prayers and wishes for the words to come have been answered, and I couldn’t be more excited. Many times my heart wanted to write a post here to keep you informed, but my body and mind wouldn’t let me lose focus on my novel by stopping the flow of typing and revising.

All of the other ideas in my brain have now taken a back seat to my novel, whose time has finally come, and I’m as focused as ever.

Yesterday, I took another leap forward in my writing career by registering for a writing conference in June that will not only offer educational workshops but will have agents and publishers on hand for pitch ideas and the like. The weird thing is that I found out about this conference, which is being sponsored by Rutgers, through an email I received at a Yahoo address that is my “bill” and crap address. I don’t use it for writing or correspondence at all, and I have never used Yahoo to search for anything regarding writing. That email was undoubtedly sent by the universe, and I listened to it and registered for the conference, which is the first weekend in June.

My spirit guide has been around as well, pleased that I’m finally making progress. Subtle, little signs here and there reinforce her presence with an “it’s about time” sassy reassurance.

I’m glad I didn’t force the story when I wasn’t ready because I fear that would have left to burn out and an abandoned idea. Right now, the manuscript is here and there with parts written not necessarily in order, but the prologue and first two chapters are complete. What helped me was to make a timeline for the main character, listing when specific events occurred, as well as her age and that of the people she associates with at the time of the events.

With 76 days until the conference, my goal is to get as much of the novel completed as possible between now and then.

I am surrounded by many supportive friends who listen to me babble on about this very special pursuit, and if you are one of them, thank you so very much. Inspiration also surrounds me in the form of colleagues who are writers, friends who are valued, family I love, and those ever-elusive easter eggs that I keep on finding.

One of my struggles is, in all honesty, very vain: deciding upon what I want to use as my author name. Instead of rushing a decision, I have decided to let all of the ideas simmer. The right one will eventually make it to the top of the list.

I will post updates here when I can, but please forgive me if I don’t post here as much as I used to. The universe and my spirit guide want this book complete, and so do I.

It’s true…when you least expect the answers, they will come.

The final lesson from this journey so far? Have faith. Thank you for following my journey. This mission has been in the making for 46 years, and each step forward fills me with exhilaration and excitement!

With gratitude and faith,

Jill

May 46 Be With You

boba-fett-birthday-2-square-balloonAnd just like that, I turned 46.

When I saw how a work friend was planning a Star Wars themed party for her son’s first birthday, I asked myself, “Why do kids get to have all the fun?”

I wanted a Star Wars party, too.

So I had one.

I designed my own invitations and mailed them to my close family members who typically attend birthday dinners. I bought as much Star Wars birthday partyware as the local discount store had for sale on its shelves. I made goody bags filled with Star Wars trinkets and favors. My husband agreed to make homemade manicotti and my sister-in-law said she’d make a cake. I didn’t want presents. I just wanted the hearts closest to mine to celebrate with me.

It turned out to be my most favorite birthday ever.

The dinner was scrumptious. My cake was awesome. And even though I didn’t want any gifts, the ones that I opened were simply wonderful and thoughtful.

The best part of my birthday was having my niece and nephews surround me/sitting on my lap while everyone sang “Happy Birthday,” then all four helping me blow out my candles. Such a blissful moment filled with absolute joy and love.

I also had a surprise for everyone: their very own bag of rocks.

What you ask? A bag of rocks?

Absolutely.

One of the intentions I set for my 46th year is to let others know that they matter to me. The 13 hearts at my birthday party were the first ones I honored with what I’ve dubbed The Pebble Project. I’m going to share a separate post about the project details, but in a nutshell, I wrote words/memories/adjectives that I associate with each recipient on the pebbles, thanking them for their role in my life.

So, yeah. It’s a bag of rocks. But I hope these will be the most important rocks the recipients will ever hold along their journey here on earth.

“May 46 be with you” will be my closing for all posts I write while I am 46. The phrase is filled with hope, joy, love, and appreciation for each moment and every heart I meet during my 46th orbit around the Sun while I find the light in each and every day.

46 is going to be an awesome year.

May 46 be with you.

wordOnward, writer!

Jill

16,801 Days

pilgrimAnother year down as I will celebrate the 17th anniversary of my 29th birthday tomorrow, As I look back, my 45th year was very good to me on many fronts.

There’s a song by Enya called “Pilgrim” that mysteriously presented itself this year with lyrics that guided me through each day.One of the lines goes as follows: “Pilgrim it’s a long way to find out who you are.” Indeed, my lifelong journey to find myself has been filled with more detours and doubts than straight routes and certainty. Thankfully, my days as a 45-year-old perhaps showed me who I am more than any other year I’ve lived. As my journey to find myself still has a long way to go, I can’t think of any better way to welcome my coming year than by remaining a pilgrim along the journey of life.

I am a writer, but the truth is, I always was but didn’t believe in myself. The words and stories inside me are finally seeing light as my voice is continually being refined and improved. There’s still a lot of work to make my voice exactly as I dream it to be as I look forward to continuing my journey as a writer.

Oh, Dublin…how I am in love with you! I followed my dreams and lived in Dublin for a week with a longtime friend, which was in itself life changing. I don’t want to continually talk about Dublin, but man…what an inexplicable connection I have to that simply wondrous city. The memory of my Dublin days are ever-present, and I can once again hear her siren song, luring me back to explore and to live and to write…

On the downside, many of my days as a 45-year-old were very difficult as I endured a severe lupus flare for over a year. I am extremely grateful that my last major lupus face rash was at the end of September, another sign that my new medication is working. If I’ve got anything to be positive about, I consider the daily pain and fatigue I experience a blessing because it makes me know I’m alive. As a result, I know the value of a good day and cherish each one now more than ever. I took the initiative of sharing my story on NewLifeOutlook: Lupus so that others with Lupus might be able to have hope.

There’s so much value in being an active participant in life, and with each day, I say YES to life more and more. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin, with my presence and living, my “I am here” statement more important than my skewed perception of how I think I look.

I wouldn’t be human if my 45th year didn’t bring with it the wistful longing for those who have passed on, such as my father, my father-in-law, my spirit guide, and other special people. But you know what? I’m at a point now where instead of mourning their loss, I celebrate their legacy and the fact that I was so lucky to have them as a part of my life, no matter how big or small their role might have been. When I consider that these special people can no longer see the sights I am able to see (at least from this dimension), I appreciate what I do see with my own two eyes more and more. Because I can, I now let the snow and cold hit my face instead of hurling expletives. I listen to the singing birds instead of yelling at them for waking me up. I touch the flower’s petals instead of walking on by. I let the waves break on my feet with a renewed appreciation, and I value the treasures left behind by the sea.

I am absolutely blessed with having family and friends standing by my side with unconditional love and support. img_8613And because of that little 2.75 year old best friend of mine, I finally know I am truly good.

And don’t forget, I got to meet Boba Fett in August! I’m still giddy over that!

The giggles, the memories, the tears, the sights, the guidance, the words, the insight…I wouldn’t change a thing. Words, stories, laughter, lessons, and life…the tenants whose lease will be renewed for the upcoming year. I’ve got a few exciting intentions and projects for my 46th year, which begins tomorrow.

But for the rest of today, I’m celebrating day 16,801 of my existence, the last day of my 45th year. Thank you, 45, for being so good to me.

My 45th Year in Facts and Statistics:

Number of Yankees Home Games I attended:  2

Number of Yankees games I got to watch on TV: 10. Thank you, Comcast, for bringing back YES this season!

Number of presentations I gave at conferences:  2

Favorite Summer Song: Encore by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Favorite Winter Song:  Bad by U2

Most played artists on my playlists:  Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, The Cure

Favorite Toys I Bought: My little wind-up sock monkey that jumps rope, my cricket driving car, and my Jyn Erso Funco figure

Number of times I saw “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in the theater: 3. The best was on opening night (actually, the night before opening night) with my husband.

Number of Monarch Butterflies I raised from caterpillars and released:  26

Favorite Books I read:  Ulysses and Us by Declan Kibbard, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Number of pins I added to my collection:  28

Favorite Sound: the laughter of my niece and nephews always, morning bird songs, and the lull of the traffic outside my window in Dublin

Favorite Christmas Gifts:  My iPhone 7-Plus from my husband and my Seinfeld 2017 Calendar, picked out by my brother-in-law.

The Best Part of the Year: Going to Dublin. Looking back with gratitude for the signs and for my spirit guide, I can’t believe I had the balls to do it. I loved every single thing about my experience, other than I had to leave. My feet will find Dublin again someday, undoubtedly led by my heart.

Town/Local Events I Attended:  Earth Day Celebration, Memorial Day ceremony, rode the town trolley, Seafood Festival before it was evacuated because of a coward’s actions, one Car Cruise, Xmas Tree Lighting/Candy Cane Hunt/Santa’s Workshop, Wings of Freedom Tour, NJ Run for the Fallen. My favorite: Point Pleasant Beach Offshore Grand Prix.

Some of my favorite memories:  seeing The Cure with treasured friends, the Point Pleasant Beach Offshore Grand Prix, Star Wars night at Yankee Stadium (Castro’s grand slam was super!), The Firefly at the Baseball Game, Yankees with M/D/D in 95+ heat, trick or treating dressed as a fairy godmother (at the request of nephew H), NYC and Navesink Lighthouse with C. (especially the Brooklyn Bridge, 9-11 Reflection Pool, Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, and Bryant Park), the blindy-bird that visited me for a few days, finding my voice, riding my bicycle around town, the new opportunity for a wonderful classroom-mate and his successes, so many laughs with friends, the Gingerbread Boy, “My doggie guitar! And my Elmo letters!,” the little one who sits on my lap because I am his best friend

Special memories with my niece and nephews:  E’s mystery trip to LBI, N’s mystery trip to Lucy the Elephant/Rainforest Café, aquarium and lunch with both H and I on separate trips, the boat village with H and I at the Point Pleasant Beach Offshore Grand Prix, swimming, Skull Mountain 22 times in a row and the VR ride with N, playing with tsum tsums/Paw Patrol/Star Wars/the lollipop game/with the gears, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Sesame Place and Christmas train trip, riding in the horse and carriage and pulling my strings, Operation Christmas Tree Hunt

Places I Ate:  Frankie’s, Shrimp Box, St. Stephen’s Green, Mastoris, Applebees, Turning Point, Lubrano’s, Bubbakoo’s, Five Guys, Wharfside, Charlie’s, 709, Asbury Festhaus & Biergarten, Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar, Chipotle, Winward Tavern, OB Diner, Brick Diner, Cookie Lady’s Café, Chik-Fil-A, Simko’s, Captain’s Inn, Lobster Shanty, Mariner’s Cove, Friendly’s, Shut Up & Eat, Taylor Sam’s, PJ Sweeney’s, Vesuvio’s, Mustache Bill’s Diner, Shake Shack, Long Point Café, Bizzaro’s, Too Jay’s Vero Beach, Rainforest Café, Anderson’s Coffee Shop, Red Robin, Saladworks, Smashburger

My LIVING 45 Bucket List

  • Watch a sunrise in all 4 seasons.COMPLETED!
    • SPRING 3/26/2016
    • SUMMER 8/31/2016
    • FALL 11/27/2016
    • WINTER 12/24/2016
  • See at least 1 new place a month.
    • MARCH: Twin Lights, Mount Mitchell Scenic Overlook, Farias Surf in LBI, DeAngelos on the Beach.
    • APRIL: Renaissance Faire at Smithville. I’ve been to Smithville once, but never to a Renaissance Faire.
    • MAY: Brookdale Community College (conference)
    • JUNE: Brooklyn Bridge, Madison Square Garden (first time), 911 Memorial, Freedom Tower, Red Robin
    • JULY: Double Trouble State Park, PJ Sweeney’s
    • AUGUST: Too many to list! Most are in Ireland.
    • SEPTEMBER: Cookie Lady Cafe
    • OCTOBER: None but I made up for it in November. See below.
    • NOVEMBER: NY Public Library, Grand Central Terminal, Bryant Park, top of the Empire State Building
    • DECEMBER: Smashburger
    • JANUARY: None, unfortunately.
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge: COMPLETED on 6/22/2016.
  • See The Cure in June at MSG: COMPLETED on 6/19/2016. See blog entry here.
  • Have firm plans to travel to Ireland and/or Iceland by the end of 2017.
    • Completed! 8/14-8/22/2016. See blog entries.
  • Go to the Point Pleasant Beach Grand Prix powerboat weekend and race in May: COMPLETED! 5/23/2016
  • Take each one of my 3 nephews and niece on a “mystery day” with Auntie Jill as well as spend time with each and make them laugh a million times throughout the year.
    • DAY WITH EM 3/12/16 (LBI)
    • DAY WITH H 6/9/16 (Aquarium, Rides, Diner)
    • DAY WITH I 6/16/16 (Aquarium)
    • DAY WITH EM & N 6/17/16 (Six Flags)
    • DAY WITH EM & N 7/21/16 (Six Flags)
    • DAY WITH N 7/27/16 (Absecon Lighthouse, Lucy the Elephant, Rain Forest Cafe
    • TIME WITH H & I 8/5/16 (Yankees Game…Star Wars Night!)
    • DAY WITH N 8/10/16 (Six Flags): We rode Skull Mountain 21 times in a row.
    • DAY WITH N 10/9/16 (Six Flags)
    • HALLOWEEN PARADE & TRICK OR TREATING WITH H & I 10/30-31/16
    • DAY WITH I 11/8/16 (Aquarium, Diner)
    • DAY WITH H 11/11/16 (Aquarium, Diner)
    • BEACH TREE LIGHTING WITH H & I 11/25/16
    • CANDY CANE HUNT WITH H & I 12/2/16
    • SANTA’S HOUSE & WORKSHOP WITH H & I 12/11/16
    • 2016 TREE HUNT WITH EM & N 12/20/16
    • SESAME PLACE WITH H & I 12/26/16
    • TRAIN WITH I & BROTHER 12/28/16
  • LIVE! Just life and enjoy life without taking it too seriously. Some of what I did:
    • Florida in March with my husband
    • Visited my friend Lynette before she left for her 50 State Tour with her MotivateMe! Team
    • Visited my friend DP in May
    • Honoring my friend RB at a celebratory gathering 6/24/16
    • Celebrating Nephew H at his pre-school graduations
    • Spending time with family at the beach for fireworks on July 4
    • Double Trouble State Park & Batsto Village with my friend C 7/14/16
    • Summer boat rides
    • Thursday lunches at Frankie’s with my uncle all summer long
    • Seeing Finding Dory for our anniversary
    • YANKEES on July 23 with friends: Military Appreciation Day, extra innings loss
    • YANKEES on August 5 with family: nephews’ first game, Star Wars night, getting my picture taken with BOBA FETT, Starlin Castro’s GRAND SLAM, an all around awesome time

Something to SEA: Thank You For Your Gifts, 2016

Yep, it’s almost here. The end of 2016. Many people will say that 2016 was cursed because of so many notable deaths, but I disagree. I’ll be honest and admit I cried a few times over Carrie Fisher and Prince. I think those are only two of the three celebrity deaths I ever cried over, number one being Chris Farley. Death sucks for sure, but 2016 was not cursed for me.

I usually write a retrospective of my year in February on my birthday, but I think 2016 itself deserves its own shout-out because of the wonderful gifts and experiences it gave to me, regardless of the highs and the lows.

The spring was rough for me as I experienced a very debilitating Lupus flare. There were some days that I literally could not even get out of bed, days that were filled with overwhelming defeat and sadness. However, those awful days made me put things into perspective and focus on what truly matters. I now aim my sight on the big picture without all of the little hassles or others’ priorities that might try to steal the show or detour my focus. Making my soul happy and MY priorities are now number one: living, laughing, loving, writing, and teaching the lessons my heart knows need to be taught.

Because I listened to the universe, I traveled abroad to Dublin not quite sure of the purpose of my trip, but now I see it as clearly as ever. I know what I want and need to do in 2017 to make my passions come alive. I am more confident now as a result of following my heart and kicking fear to the curb. I’m learning more about myself months after my trip, too, as I look back upon my experience while researching the life and works of James Joyce. In addition to Joyce, writers Paulo Coelho, Seamus Heaney, Declan Kiberd, and Jeff Goins provided an immense amount of encouragement and guidance.

I found inspiration in the lyrics of many songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers (Look Around, Goodbye Angels, Dark Necessities, The Longest Wave, Encore, Hey, Can’t Stop, The Zephyr Song, Midnight), The Cure (Treasure, Open, From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea), Coldplay (Midnight, Up & Up, 42, Death and All His Friends), 311 (Golden Sunlight, Beyond the Grey Sky, Never Ending Summer, Tranquility, Hey You, Something out of Nothing, Two Drops in the Ocean), Blackbird and Hey Jude by The Beatles and Pilgrim by Enya.

One surprise that 2016 provided was learning I might have Polish heritage through my father’s mother, not Russian or Austrian as we originally thought. I plan to continue exploring my family heritage in the coming year.

2016 gave me so many splendid memories filled with giggles and smiles, especially those made with my niece and nephews E, N, H, and I. I loved our Six Flags and Sesame Place trips, the tree hunt, boardwalk and aquarium days, Star Wars night at Yankee Stadium, going to LBI and Margate, lining up 120 Disney Tsum Tsum figures, playing games, and more. I’m a very blessed auntie, and I am lucky that E, N, H, and I are in my life. And #5 will be arriving in April, something more to look forward to in 2017! I’m putting my money on another niece, as H and I are both hoping for a sister.

Some of my favorite experiences were Star Wars Night at Yankee Stadium with my family, seeing the Yankees in July with my friend M and her family, random trips with my friend C (especially the NYC ones), seeing Rogue One on opening night, seeing The Cure with friends in June (bucket list!), the Wings of Freedom air tour, and seeing friends once a month again like we used to years ago. The holidays of 2016 (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays) were better this year, too. Despite my health in the spring, I said YES more to life this year than I have in a long time. I am glad I did.

I know my worth and that I am good because of my nephews, my niece, and some very special spirits and people in my life. I learned that being in a photo is more important than my ego, a lesson that will fuel part of my journey in 2017. Additionally, I’m eternally grateful for people like you who never gave up on me and continue to read what I write even though it might be self-indulging like this post.

My word for 2016 was DETERMINED. However, it was hard for me to be determined when I knew the goals I set at the onset of the year were not what my heart and soul wanted me to accomplish. Plus, feeling as awful as I did in the spring, it was hard to be DETERMINED about anything. In May, I changed my word from DETERMINED to OPEN and that made all of the difference. I went with the flow and allowed life to direct me through the rest of 2016, and what a ride it’s been…exhilarating and comforting and so much more! I have selected a new theme for 2017, one which I will post about tomorrow, but being OPEN will still play a pivotal role as I shift focus a bit for the new year.

A final lesson from 2016 is that I can MAKE time for anything, I don’t have to find the time. If something is truly important, the time is there. I just have to re-evaluate my priorities. With each day passing by quicker than its yesterday, I learned the colossal significance of NOW while allowing the light to shine ahead. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday I wrote my farewell to 2015? No, it was 365 days ago. One year, not one yesterday.

I am a different person now than I was a year ago, and for once, I like myself a whole hell of a lot better now.

Anthony Kiedis sang, “…this life is more than just a read through” on the song Can’t Stop. And he’s right.

Thank you, 2016, for all of your gifts, lessons, experiences, and blessings, all of which will fuel me through 2017 as I march onward. This life is, indeed, more than just a read through, and I intend to make it extraordinary.

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What Will Your 2017 Verse Be?

We are once again standing on the horizon of a new year’s birth.

I bid a fond farewell to regret, to bitterness, to floundering, and to negativity.

I say hello to living, to positivity, to happiness, and to making my dream a reality.

I will continue to make marvelous memories with those I cherish, experiences full of smiles and laughter.

I will accomplish that goal I have had for years, the one that I kept buried underneath the cloak of insignificance and the mask of unworthiness, the one that used to just collect nothing more than dust.

As Walt Whitman wrote,

YOU ARE HERE.

LIFE EXISTS, AND IDENTITY.

THE POWERFUL PLAY GOES ON.

AND YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE A VERSE.

So, the question is my friend,

What will your verse be?

My verse for 2017 will be filled with writing, learning, and living. I will follow my dream while I impart the lesson that this moment is everything. I will be focused as I rise in 2017.

Why?  Because…

I AM HERE.

My life exists.

I finally know my worth.

And I will contribute my verse with enthusiasm, confidence, and most of all, love.

Let Robin Williams’ character John Keating fill you with inspiration with Whitman’s words as we explode into 2017.

Happy New Year, friend!

With love,Jill

Jill

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