Still SEAking, And Still Reflecting…

Dear Friend,

In the months since I’ve been “retired” from posting here at SoulSEAker, my heart has felt its loss. It’s true that I found my voice and my purpose, which was the mission of SoulSEAker, but what I didn’t expect is the hole its absence would leave in my soul. I miss posting about life and what-not, although to quote Samantha Baker from Sixteen Candles, “Life is not what-not and it’s none of your business.”

I have come out of retirement and will resume posting here with (hopeful) regularity like I used to back when I established SoulSEAker. Writing is therapeutic and nourishing for me, and I assume there are others who might feel the same as I do. Perhaps my words will nourish them. Perhaps my voice will provide them with some much-needed hope and therapy.

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I include a picture from my 2016 trip to Dublin to accompany today’s post. Demolition on the former Tara Towers Hotel was completed last month. The Tara Towers Hotel played a huge role in my mission from the universe which led me to find myself. Its demolition coincides with both completely re-crafting draft seven of my novel titled Chapter One – A Novel, and with re-launching SoulSEAKER. Just as the owners of the former Tara Towers Hotel set their sights on building a brand-new, state-of-the-art and architecturally savvy hotel on the site, I am focused on re-crafting both my novel and SoulSEAKER to make each as appealing to my readers as possible.

Tara Towers serves as a visual reminder that it’s okay to tear it down and rebuild because its lessons and its influence will always be a part of my foundation. I’m grateful for the role Tara Towers had in my journey, for I would not be who I am today without it. Might sound silly to be grateful for a building, but to me, it’s so much more than that. And because I can see it as more than a dated hotel that needed a facelift, that’s what makes me unabashedly me.

I’m glad to be back. I’m glad to be here. And I’m glad you are with me for the ride. Thanks, friend.

With gratitude, 

Jill, author of “SoulSEAker”

Copyright 2019 – Jill Ocone. This post originally appeared on both the SoulSEAker blog (www.soulseaker.com) and the personal blog of Jill Ocone (www.jillocone.com) on July 3, 2019. Views and opinions contained in this post are solely those of the author, who was not compensated in any way by any entity, including Maldron Hotels. All rights reserved.

Nitro’s Check Mark

I took my teenage niece, nephew, and their friend to Six Flags Great Adventure yesterday (August 10, 2018). My husband and I have given Niece and Nephew season passes to Six Flags Great Adventure for Christmas every year since 2015.

What I love most about our gift is that I also get a season pass, which allows me to spend time with them at the park several times a year. Each visit is special to me because it’s our thing, and it’s a great way to help provide a break for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. If I had a nickel for how many times we laughed together or for each memory we made or silly story we told, I’d be a millionaire by now.

Nephew knows more about Six Flags rides and parks than anyone I’ve ever met. He can tell you when a ride made its park debut, who built it, who designed it, and what park received the ride it might have replaced. He understands the physics and design elements that goes into building a ride and if you ask him what park in the United States had the first looping roller coaster, he will know the answer.

When it comes to actually going on the rides, Niece is fearless and she will go on anything.  Meanwhile, Nephew and I have a similar sense of moderate adventure and we tend to stick to the middle-of-the-road rides and coasters, then when we are ready, we’ll attempt riding a more extreme one.

Our favorite ride is Skull Mountain, which is a fun, little inside coaster that operates in the dark. Two summers ago, Nephew and I set a personal record for going on Skull Mountain 22 times in a row, which took a little over two hours. We only stayed on the ride when the ride queue was empty five times; the rest of the time we got out and walked around. It probably wasn’t my best decision, in hindsight, since I flew to Dublin the following day with a splitting headache.

Our last ride conquests were Superman: Ultimate Flight and Green Lantern at the end of last summer. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Superman experience, considering riders are face down to simulate Superman’s flight. We conquered Bizarro in April of 2017. Man, that one is fast! It’s like the Batman coaster after it had three energy drinks and a shot of super-charged espresso. Batman: The Ride has always been one of my favorites, and we conquered that one together in 2015 at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Holidays in the Park.

The coasters Nephew and I haven’t found the courage to ride yet are notoriously extreme, and we weren’t sure which coaster we’d be brave enough to conquer this year.

Enter Nitro.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

When Nitro opened in 2001, it was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in New Jersey (Kingda Ka stole those honors from Nitro a few years later). While Nitro does not have any inversions, it is 230 feet high at its peak (which takes almost 60 seconds to climb) and reaches speeds up to 80 miles per hour in its two minute, twenty second mile-long course.

I went on Nitro once while chaperoning a school trip in 2005, thinking it would be like either Rolling Thunder and Scream Machine, two classic, now long-gone, coasters I loved.

I was completely wrong.

Nitro nearly killed me.

Well, maybe not killed, but the experience scared me tremendously.

I ended up uncontrollably shaking and trembling when I walked off the ride, my legs like jelly and my arm muscles sore for several days later due to how much I strained them as I held onto the restraint as tight as I could.

I vowed I was forever done with the infernal contraption known as Nitro.

I shared my Nitro story with Nephew on several occasions, including yesterday when we safely sat and waited for Niece and Friend to return from Friend’s first time riding the steel beast.

Nephew is older now, and I could see the curiosity twinkling in his eye as he told me what he knew about Nitro while he watched a car roaring along its track. “It was designed by B and M,” he said, “and they have a great safety record.”

There was no doubt about it. He was ready to take the Nitro leap and I wasn’t about to let my fear hold him back.

Niece and Friend returned rather quickly since the wait time was a few minutes at best, and Friend absolutely loved the Nitro experience.

Nephew said that if Friend could do it, he could too.

All three looked at me with pleading eyes but I stubbornly shook my head. “You guys have a great time!” I said as I bid them farewell, then I walked over to where people on the ground could see Nitro’s ride cars leave the loading area. Nephew was safely seated between Niece and Friend as their car passed by, their arms flailing in enthusiastic waves.

“Bye!” they yelled in unison.

They returned 140 seconds later with Nephew wearing the widest smile I’ve ever seen on his face. He gave me a thumbs up from up on high as he jubilantly shrieked, “It was awesome!”

Dammit.

I knew what I had to do.

A minute later, they surrounded me as they jumped around in sheer excitement and joy. A chorus of “please?”s rose up.  Nephew looked me right in my eyes and said, “You can do it. I did it, and so can you.”

I remembered a story told by a colleague who was in a similar situation. Her grandson wanted her to go on a thrill ride with him, and her outlook was, “I can do anything for two minutes.”

Realizing that I could too, I sighed then nodded my head as I said, “Okay.”

A whoop emanated from all three as Niece took my hand to lead me to certain death.

“You’re lucky I love you,” I grumbled as we walked through the air gate to the seats in Row 4.

My pulse raced as I sat down between Niece and Nephew, with Friend to Nephew’s left. The yellow restraints locked and were subsequently checked by the ride attendants. It’s a good thing mine was secure because at the last second, I cried, “I don’t want to do this!” and I honestly would have ran if I could.

However, it was zero hour and flight was not an option.

After the “visual scan” and “all clear” over the loudspeaker by what I was sure was the Grim Reaper disguised as Nitro’s head supervisor, our car was set free.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

I closed my eyes and leaned my head as far back into my seat as possible. With each upward click, I squeezed Niece’s hand a little tighter. She, along with Nephew and Friend, found my reaction highly amusing. I think they were all laughing, but I can’t exactly remember because I was concentrating so hard on praying for redemption.

“Here we go, Aunt Jill!” Niece shouted as we reached Nitro’s summit.

This is it.

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

Within seconds, we were traveling down the 215-feet drop at the advertised eighty miles-per-hour.  I’m pretty sure my heart rate matched the number of expletives I let fly.

“I’m going to die! My eyes are closed! My eyes are open! No, they’re not! I’m going to die!”

Towards the end of the journey to my undeniable demise, Niece yelled, “Bunny hops!!”

I opened my eyes to see the blue and yellow hilly path we were on as we smoothly rode over each bump. It was surprisingly much smoother than the Runaway Mine Train bunny hops at the end of its path, that was for sure.

“Hold on!”

The car suddenly came to a halting stop.

And I was alive.

Sure, my legs were once again like jelly as we walked off the ride, and I felt a surge of electricity pulsing through my entire body.

But it was a good energy, and I did not die.

The sleek, wicked-fast roller coaster was one of the smoothest rides I’ve ever experienced, and the sensation of weightlessness was exhilarating.

I looked at Nephew, who threw his arms around me and exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you!” Niece and friend hugged me too. “You did it, Aunt Jill!”

Somewhere along the ride route, a remote camera snaps a photograph which is then displayed for about a minute or so on the monitors at the Nitro photo kiosk near the ride’s exit. The picture of our row featured three gleeful faces with arms up in the air and one red face screaming for mercy as she gripped onto the restraint for dear life.

We didn’t buy the photograph, but I’ll be able to picture it perfectly in my mind’s eye for the rest of my life.

The unspoken question hovered in the air around us as we regrouped outside the ride.

It was answered by all four of us walking together once again through Nitro’s entrance.

Three minutes later, a photograph with four delighted smiles in our row flashed upon the photo kiosk’s screen.

2018 Roller Coaster: Nitro. Check mark achieved.

 

Nitro’s Check Mark“: Copyright 2018 – Jill Ocone. This post originally appeared on both the Soulseaker blog (www.soulseaker.com) and the personal blog of Jill Ocone (www.jillocone.com) on August 11, 2018. Views and opinions contained in this post are solely those of the author, who was not compensated in any way by any entity, including Six Flags Great Adventure, the Six Flags corporation, or their affiliates. All rights reserved.

Radio Days: American Top 40

Radio music provided the soundtrack to my life as a youngster. Remember those long-distance dedications and waiting to hear what song would be number one for the week? Well, a local radio station plays original broadcasts of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem countdowns every Saturday morning, and listening to it has become one of my favorite parts of the week.

This week’s countdown from March 26, 1983 is a literal time machine, and I’m allowing myself to travel back as I listen to Casey Kasem’s quintessential voice and the top hits from 35 years ago on this chillingly sunny March morning…

I was twelve years old and in sixth grade, and man, was life simple back then. The only stresses were math homework and figuring out what route to take as I aimlessly wrote my bicycle around my neighborhood. Saturday morning cartoons and Battle of the Network Stars were still the things to watch, and the patchouli-reeking maze of stores called Peddler’s Village over in Wall Township was still the place to wander on a rainy weekend day to buy stickers, feather clips, and pencils with fuzzy toppers.

Whatever happened to Christopher Cross and Joe Jackson? In retrospect, I realize I like both of them and just added a few songs by each to my playlist for the upcoming week.

Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle, and a dash of Anne Murray and Barry Manilow thrown in here and there…these artists were on constant rotation in our olive-green shagged-carpet family room that hid many a Star Wars figure’s small blaster within its threads…never thought those soft voices could ever be a trigger, but I digress….

Are the songs Little Red Corvette, Down Under, Allentown, and Stray Cat Strut really this old? Sidebar: I distinctly remember receiving Down Under as a 45 record for my birthday in February 1982. In fact, I think I still have it somewhere in my John Travolta record case that is buried deep in my attic.

Der Komissar! I’m creeping around dancing to this one like a secret agent. Not sure what that means, but that’s what I’m doing…don’t turn around…Der Komissar’s in town!

We didn’t have MTV yet in my house in 1983, but NBC aired a two-hour long show called Friday Night Videos. Knight Rider and Friday Night Videos were the first two shows we taped on our brand-new VCR, and I’d watch those videos over and over. I always believed the story about the video for Michael Jackson’s Beat it casting real gang members, but my father tried his best to set my warped thinking straight. “Look at how they dance. Gang members wouldn’t be able to dance like that,” he said, or something along those lines. Guess what? I just looked it up and apparently, I WAS RIGHT!!!! They WERE gang members! I also wanted to go to that diner in the video because, for some reason, I thought the food would be really good.

The zombies in the video for Jeopardy by The Greg Kihn Band freaked me out. I can picture them in my mind as clearly as if I saw them yesterday.

And speaking of my dearly departed father, he loved the song Come On Eileen, but in true dad fashion, he did not have a clue about what the lyrics really were (you in that dress, my thoughts I confess verge on dirty). I would cringe every time he’d sing the main chorus of Come On Eileen and the ‘to ra loo ra too ra loo rye eye’ part to a young girl named Eileen in Sunday church. I fear thinking about the possibility of ramifications gone viral if he did such a thing in 2018.

A rush of images from walking home from middle school flooded my brain when One on One by Hall and Oates began to play. The mood quickly switched to wanting to victoriously punch my fist in the air to the beat of Separate Ways by Journey, and before I knew it, I’m back in my friend Susan’s closet eating Smurfberry Crunch listening to Mr. Roboto by Styx. Ironically, I live on her street now, but she moved away a long time ago.

Yes! Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran! I still write this down on any and all school dance/prom song request lists that appear in my classroom, but for some reason, it’s never played.

The number two song is Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. Boy George’s voice is simply entrancing, and Culture Club is scheduled to perform this summer at a local outdoor concert venue. I really wish I could go but I’m going to be in Dublin.

And the number one song for the week is….drum roll please….

Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. As soon as the opening note drops, the highlight reel from one of my best moments as a teacher begins to play in my mind’s theater. How is it possible that the secret closing number during the December 2007 fund raiser happened more than ten years ago? The quote “In life, there is no five-minute intermission” was born that evening by a young man named Matt, and it’s morphed into one of my mantras for life. Special times and special memories with special people who walked through my journey for sure, and the value of this memory is worth millions.

It often blows my mind that while I might have trouble remembering what I did yesterday, I can recall, no problem, the words to many of these 35-year-old songs. This trip down memory lane today was a good one, and today’s soundtrack surely helped form the person I am today.

Here’s the full list of American Top 40 Hits from March 26, 1983 as per Casey Kasem’s countdown.

40: So Close – Diana Ross

39: I Don’t Care Anymore – Phil Collins

38: Winds of Change – Jefferson Starship

37: I Like It – Debarge

36: My Kind of Lady – Supertramp

35: I Won’t Hold You Back – Toto

34: Even Now – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

33: Dreaming is Easy – Steel Breeze

32: Just You and I – Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle

31: She Blinded Me With Science – Thomas Dolby

30: Lies – Thompson Twins

29: Make Love Stay – Dan Folgelberg

28: Change of Heart – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

27: Little Red Corvette – Prince

26: Allentown – Billy Joel

25: Poison Arrow – ABC

24: Down Under – Men at Work

23: Baby Come to Me – Patti Austin and James Ingram

22: Breaking Us In Two – Joe Jackson

21: Stray Cat Strut – The Stray Cats

20: Little Too Late – Pat Benetar

19: All Right – Christopher Cross

18: I’ve Got a Rock and Roll Heart – Eric Clapton

17: Fall In Love With Me – Earth, Wind, and Fire

16: Der Kommisar – After the Fire

15: Beat It – Michael Jackson

14: Jeopardy – The Greg Kihn Band

13: I Know What’s Going On – Frida

12: Shame on the Moon – Bob Segar and The Silver Bullet Band

11: Come on, Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

10: Twilight Zone – Golden Earring

9: One on One – Hall and Oates

8: Separate Ways – Journey

7: Mr. Roboto – Styx

6: We’ve Got Tonight – Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton

5: Back on the Chain Gang – The Pretenders

4: You Are – Lionel Richie

3: Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran

2: Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club

1: Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

I did it!

I apologize for my long absence from posting here on SoulSEAker, but I was among the missing for a good reason: I finished writing my novel! If you’ve been a long-time follower, you know that this has been a project for over two years in the making. Chapter One – A Novel by Jill Ocone is the result of opening my eyes and believing in the universe. There’s no doubt that two special spirit guides helped me along the way, and I am forever indebted to both of them.

What is most satisfying is that as I wrote, the story took its own shape and form. The original idea that came to me in August of 2014 is still the backbone of the story, but the plot took form as I typed, and things happened that I never expected. The story’s timeline just happened as I was writing. I am, indeed, a real author/writer now!

While I plan on still posting here, I will also be posting specifically about my journey as an author/writer over at jillocone.com. I invite you to visit me over there and check out my professional site. There’s a synopsis of Chapter One posted over there, as well as a form to request a sample copy if you are interested. If not, no worries!

My “mission from the universe”, however, is far from complete. I’ve begun querying agents and publishers in hopes that I am guided to the right opportunity to take Chapter One to the next level. If nothing comes of it, or if everything comes from it, I’m happy regardless of the outcome. I accomplished what I set out to do, even though I had no idea what that was two years ago. I’ve already reached the milestone of receiving my first rejection, and that excites me! Again, I’m a real author now!

Your support has made my journey all the more meaningful, and I am extremely thankful for YOU.

Today is a snow day here in the northeast, and I plan to use part of my day to plot out an idea that again came to me in a dream which could be my second novel.  Here’s hoping! Be safe, my friend!

 

A Manifesto for 2018

We are once again standing on the cusp of a new year.

It’s a time every year when my failures each ring their own bell and demand my attention. “Look at me,” they each scream. “Look at me! Don’t forget the detour I created! You suck and are teeming with regret at the sight of me!”

Frigging bastards.

When looking ahead to a new calendar, I’ve tended to play the victim and blame my failures and shortcomings on my self-perceived inadequacies, half of which are undoubtedly formed by unrealistic societal expectations.

I’ve also blamed time: there’s not enough, or there’s too much.

Either way, I’m continually thrown off the path that I believed would lead me to attaining my goals, yet while I paved it with good intentions, I also paved it with excuses chock full of my own bullshit.

The cycle of getting nowhere very quickly happens every year because I allow it to.

That stops now.

There’s no resolutions for me this year.

No, sir.

Instead, my goal from today forward is to live the hell out of every minute of this extraordinary life and truly cherish the miracle that is the present moment.

Whether I am writing, swimming, driving, exploring, laughing with family and friends, teaching…whatever I am doing, I will give myself fully to that miraculous moment.

The fact that I’m sitting here all snug and warm, with a cup of hot coffee to my left and quiet music playing as snowflakes delicately dance down from the clouds to the ground…there’s so tiny miracles right here in this present moment, miracles that I always took for granted or overlooked.

What matters, I mean what truly matters, is this moment.

I am alive.

And so are you.

This is a time of rebirth, a time to take those lessons from past failures and regret, be thankful for them, and apply their wisdom while moving forward.

No more bowing down to society’s expectations or to feeding the trolls of self-deprecation. I am not inadequate and I do matter, if only to myself.

It’s time to live the hell out of this one and precious life I’ve been given, because I am not promised a tomorrow. Wasting time is no longer an option, either.

I will live with those who are alongside me in real life and for those who are alongside me in spirit.

I will be a beacon of kindness and empathy as I look to stand alongside my fellow humans with understanding and compassion.

I will be grateful for everything I experience and for everyone I interact with.

Most importantly, I will embrace and celebrate the moments extraordinary that fill my days with joy and with purpose as I pursue my passions with conviction.

Let’s do this, 2018!

With gratitude and joy,

Jill

Note: This was also posted on jillocone.com. 

Saying YES to LIFE this Summer

Summer 2017, Day 25: July 15

It’s summertime, and the living is fine, for sure. Morning walks along the boardwalk and the beach, sitting in the shade and writing, watching the hundreds of birds at the feeders, enjoying an ice cream cone or a treat from the ice cream man, lunches and dinners with friends, picking green beans from the garden, wandering downtown, fishing with my husband, laughing with my nieces and nephews…life has been simply beautiful. It helps that I’m feeling extraordinarily better than last year at this time. I am once again an active participant in life with an awareness of my limits. I’m doing my best to savor each of my experiences and celebrate the ordinary moments in my days. Feeling better physically has led to a more positive mental and emotional outlook as well, and I can’t remember a time when I ever felt this content.

I said yes to an opportunity on a Facebook status months ago, and it turned out to be a fantastic time with friends and classmates as we saw the Violent Femmes in Asbury Park. Random, spontaneous fun for sure as the gents of the Femmes rocked the house. What a great time with even greater people!

But isn’t that the point of life? Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to enjoy every moment of our time here on Earth?

Yes. Definitely YES. And I will be saying YES to life from this point on.

In other news, my novel is taking shape. I can see the storyline now, and what helped me get to this point was creating two large plot boards. I color coded events, themes, and symbols and arranged them in the order I want to include them on large, styrofoam-type poster board. It’s easier for me to look at it all at once, versus paging through a notebook to find the right note. Now everything is right there in front of me. The novel is going to be in three parts, and I’m almost done with Part One. My goal is to finish Part Two before I go to Dublin in the middle of August, then write most of Part Three after I return because that part takes place in Dublin. While there, I plan to visit some locations and look through the eyes of the main character so I can accurately write about it. I’ve been writing every day and am plugging along as I tell the story of Kelly Lynch and how her friend, Shannon, led her to her true purpose in life.

I’m also going to be setting up an author webpage with it’s own blog that will track my progress. Once that’s set up, I’ll be promoting it here and then you can follow me on that avenue if you’d like.

If you are looking for a great book to read this summer, consider Liz Nugent’s Unraveling Oliver. I had the opportunity of briefly meeting Liz at BookCon in June, where I received an advance copy. Set in Dublin, the novel develops the story of Oliver Ryan and is full of suspense. Talk about signs…when I started reading it, I had no idea it was set in Dublin, or that Liz Nugent hails from Ireland. I couldn’t put it down! It’s going to be released later this summer here in the USA. I highly recommend Unraveling Oliver.

Have a splendid day, and thanks for being a part of my journey.

Until Next Time,

Jill

 

What’s There To Be Afraid Of, Anyway?

Summer 2017, Day 4: June 24

I woke up this morning to my phone vibrating like crazy with a slew of severe thunderstorm alerts.

I used to be very afraid of thunderstorms until two years ago when I was at a local amusement with my nephew, then 10, and some terrible storms came through. We were standing outside under an awning, and he was a little uneasy about the situation. I couldn’t let on that, inside, I was curling up in the fetal position with my fingers in my ears because I didn’t want to further freak him out. So I pretended that the storms didn’t bother me. I remained calm on the outside despite hearing the sizzle of lightning and the crack of the thunder close at hand. I pointed out different things to look at, like the family dancing in the rain and the people who would run past at top speed every two minutes. We both laughed as we tried to predict when the next person would come screaming through with a bag over their head and shoes in their hand. Within a few minutes, the worst of it passed us and we ended up having a stellar time because almost everyone else left the park. The rides were ours and ours alone for the remainder of the night. I learned two valuable lessons that day. One was to sing and laugh in the rain, and I wrote a post about that lesson in January 2016 (click anywhere in this sentence to read it).

The other was that there was nothing to be afraid of. I couldn’t control the lightning or the thunder, so why had I let the thunder and the lightning control me?

What was there, really, to be afraid of?

Nothing.

The lighting and the thunder would do what it does, regardless of how I feel about it.

Could I ever, truly, prevent the worst from happening?

No.

So when I woke up to the alerts this morning, I didn’t retreat to the floor in the fetal position with my fingers in my ears covered by a blanket. Instead, I opened the blinds and watched the water pummel down from the clouds, making little waterfalls on the trees and the leaves and the neighbor’s roof. There was no thunder and no lightning, but if there was, I would have watched it instead of hiding from it.

Now, let’s take that a step further.

If I look at other things I’m afraid of with the same logic, why do I let fear run the show?

What’s the worst that could happen if, say, I got on that big roller coaster?

Or better yet, what’s the worst that could happen if I took a chance on my writing and stopped using fear as an excuse?

I was afraid of thunder and lightning for almost 44 years.

Did the worst ever happen?

No.

If I take a chance and get on that roller coaster, I’m 99.9% sure the worst isn’t going to happen. And as a wise friend once said, I can do anything for a minute and a half.

I think it’s time to consider getting on that roller coaster ride.

And it’s time to move forward with my novel. I’ve wasted enough time because I’m afraid I’m not taking the right path with the story line.

I’ve just got to trust the path that I choose to take for my characters and go with it, regardless of my trepidation.

What’s the worst that could happen if it’s not the right path?

I’ll simply just start over again.

No worries.

And no fear.

 

 

 

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.