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!

 

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!

Part One of “The Universe Is At It Again!”: Who Am I?

Who are you? Or better yet, who am I? That’s the quintessential question, isn’t it? And I think every one of us is searching for that elusive answer, despite how confident we might be.

Who am I, indeed? What makes me ME?

One of my biggest regrets is never preserving each of my four grandparents’ stories…their backgrounds, families, cultures, heritages, and what made each of them THEM.

Sure, I talked with them a bit when I was young, but I don’t remember much of anything because I never took the time to write anything down.

That part of my story, their individual stories comprised of their contributions to my genetic blueprint, is forever lost.

Huge regret.

HUGE.

I do recall being told over the years that my heritage includes Russian, English, German, and a tad bit of Irish.

Tad bit of Irish? With my connection to all things Ireland over the past 3 years, I longed for more than just a “tad” bit of Irish in my background.

So, last summer, I decided to see if I could find out exactly that that “tad” was comprised of.

Three weeks before I left for Dublin, I began researching my genealogy hoping to find an Irish connection, specifically through my Grandpa C. He never shared much of anything about his background or family, but I vaguely recall him saying there was Irish mixed in with his mostly English heritage.

Our local library offers free Ancestry access to anyone with a library card, so I spent a few summer afternoons playing detective as I tried to uncover at least one Irish link. The more I searched, the more discoveries about my family heritage I made, but with each click ahead I fell further behind on making a concrete Irish connection.

All in all, I ended up learning a lot, but I was unable to confirm or deny what it was that brought me to the library in the first place.

For starters, I found out pretty quickly that my supposed Russian heritage was perhaps incorrectly attributed.

Census from 1930

The line in my heritage through my father’s mother’s family provided very quick and solid information. Grandma C. always said that she was Russian, and she even knew how to speak it. However, I think she might have been mistaken. On every census and official document I could find on her family line, the home country of her parents, J and E, was different. The earliest I could find from the early 1900s listed Galicia (not the one in Spain) as their home country, and that changed over the years to Austria, Poland, and Russia.

Galicia was one of those recurring terms from last summer that guided me, and I wrote a separate entry about that here.

I unearthed more information about Grandma C.’s line, and my mother’s parents and their lines, but the line from my dad’s father gave me the least amount of data. All I found was Grandpa C.’s marriage certificate to Grandma C. (the one with parents from Galicia), which included both of their parent’s names, one entry in a census report from 1940, and his birth and death dates.

When he heard I was trying to learn about our family, my Uncle G (Dad’s brother) gave me a red binder filled with photos from Grandpa C.’s side and obituary clippings and memorial cards from many members of his family. I meticulously went through the album hoping to find a link to Ireland, but I came up with nothing. Most of the pictures didn’t have names, and the ones that did were people who both my Uncle and I had never met or really heard of before.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to confirm anything Irish in my heritage. Drats.

I traveled to Dublin in August, unsure of whether or not I had any legit ties to what has become one of my favorite places in the world. That trip changed my life in so many ways regardless of whether I’m truly Irish or not.

When I returned from my trip, the frenzy of back to school hit hard, and I abandoned my genealogy research for the time being. I instead focused on my novel, my writing, and my responsibilities. Another summer would be here, soon, with time for me to once again pursue learning about the origins of my heritage.

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow!

 

An Opportunity for Inspiration from Colm Toibin

It’s not often that big name creatives make their way to the Jersey Shore. Usually, the musicians and writers I’d love to see perform are either in New York or Philadelphia and it’s just too much for me to go. However, my serendipity streak is alive and well, resulting in the opportunity to hear one of my favorite authors speak this week only 30 minutes away from my home, and even better, it was free.

Most people recognize Colm Toibin’s name from his novel Brooklyn; the movie based on his book premiered last spring. If you’ve followed me for a while now, you are well aware of the string of signs that led me to Ireland last year, fueled by what I like to call my spirit guide. Mr. Toibin’s works Brooklyn and Nora Webster both appeared several times along that serendipitous timeline, well before the movie trailer for Brooklyn was released. Mr. Toibin’s breadcrumbs led me to other literary connections, personal discoveries, and further signs along my journey. The fact that I’m almost 30,000 words into my own novel is based, in a very slight part, on his contribution to my timeline.

What most people don’t know is that Mr. Toibin was a journalist before publishing essays and novels. His creative streak came alive later in his life, which is something I can truly relate to and is one of the reasons why I look to him as an inspiration.

When I saw that Monmouth University was hosting Colm Toibin as their final author in their Visiting Writers series this year, I jumped at the chance to attend. It was open to the public. With serendipity once again running the show, I couldn’t believe I had nothing else on my schedule on that particular afternoon during a week of a craziness filled with deadlines and due dates and contingency plans in the event my niece decided to enter the world (she’s smart…she’s still nesting comfortably inside mama as I write this). I even had a friend who wanted to go with me (thanks, C!).

We arrived about 45 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin and were able to get excellent seats near the front. After a short while, my friend went upstairs to check something on her phone since the signal inside the auditorium wasn’t every good. A gentleman began testing the microphone, and it was Mr. Toibin himself. He looked at me and smiled as he walked past me. Within 30 minutes the room was packed with Monmouth University faculty and students, as well as members of the general public like my friend and I, all eager for the program to begin.

Monmouth University’s Dean Michael Thomas began the program by speaking briefly then handing the introduction over to his colleague, Dr. Susan Goulding. After a few moments, Mr. Toibin took the podium, and from his first word, his accent captivated my attention for his whole presentation. He intertwined tales from his own life and his writing process in between his oral readings from both Nora Webster and Brooklyn.

The way he explained how he used real-life elements in his fiction made an impact on me, as I am attempting to do something similar with my own writing. Mr. Toibin said that writing is all about therapy, and that it is sometimes brave yet difficult to write the stories you don’t want to forget. “I didn’t know I was a novelist. If I didn’ I would have taken notes,” he said. Me, too!

Mr. Toibin develops a strong sense of character in his works, which is something I am trying to do in my attempt at writing a novel. He urged adding details during revision, and to do it right, to describe as if you were looking at a photograph. Confusion can be worked out later as you add levels of intensity to the characters. Make the landscapes fully real and have a sense of your audience. Not everything has to be symbolic as you look outwards from self. All of his advice is on point, and I was reassured by his words because I honestly am doing exactly as he said, or at least I think I am.

Mr. Toibin lists Mary Lavin, Colin Barrett, and Claire Keegan as writers who have influenced him. I find it encouraging that two of the three writers are much younger than he is, emphasizing that there’s always a lesson to be learned through the lives and works of others, no matter the age difference.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was a lesson that combines his own experience with the experiences of his characters Nora Webster and Eilis Lacey: finding yourself is a lifelong journey. I’m even more comforted and reassured after hearing Mr. Toibin’s presentation that I am in the right place at the right time.

Afterward, I thought about the experience for a bit after looking over my notes. I then began fantasizing about the idea that maybe, someday, I would be addressing an audience about my works and my influences. I wonder if Mr. Toibin knows that I’d be talking about him (and others) just as he talked about Lavin, Barrett, and Keegan.

Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Until next time,

Jill

To learn more about Colm Toibin, visit his website by clicking here.

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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The Lesson from The Jimmy

Today’s post title is, indeed, a reference to a Seinfeld episode, and this is a story from my journey through the streets of Dublin.

One day was particularly rainy as my friend and I explored various James Joyce spots then the Temple Bar region. When it was time to head back to the hotel, we made our way to the Luas light rail system for quicker transportation back to Connelly Station in the rain, which at that time was coming down pretty good.

We walked up to the ticket vending machine at the Jervis stop, purchased our tickets, then looked for a dry place to stand.

A man wearing a black garbage bag over his clothes as a makeshift raincoat stood along the wall under the closest overhang. He was drinking a beer in a small, round, green bottle.

The only spot to stand where we might be shielded from the rain was next to him.

I’m ashamed to admit that the idea of standing next to him made me nervous, a result of my predisposed prejudices that I wasn’t even aware of.

Nevertheless, we stood in the available spot, and he immediately started talking with us.

He said he got the garbage bag from the homeless shelter.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that. What he said next, though, completely caught me by surprise.

He shared that he wasn’t at the shelter because he was homeless or needed assistance. Rather, he was a volunteer. I got the distinct impression he was homeless as some point in his life and was paying back the help he had received.

He was on his way home to his wife, who had some sort of medical issue if I recall correctly. He wanted to squeeze in a quick beer for enjoyment before having to face reality again.

He asked us where we were from, and we said New Jersey. He shared that he lived in Florida for a short time, but Ireland was home.

As the Luas train approached, he said, “You know, we all have the same story, no matter where we are from.”

We said goodbye and got onto the train.

I never thought to ask his name, but he looked like his name should be Jimmy, so that’s what I call him.

All of my assumptions I had about Jimmy when I first saw him were shot to hell and completely wrong.

I haven’t forgotten Jimmy or his simple yet profound message.

Underneath it all, we all do, indeed, have the same story: the elements of heartache, triumph, wishing, wanting, doing, suffering, pain, losing, judgment, fear, acceptance, wonder, success, sadness, anger, love, loss, fulfillment, satisfaction, emptiness, strength, peace, weakness, joy, stereotypes, strife, bliss, disappointment, and more…all rolled up into one core of a story with our own circumstances and attributes creating the mask we each wear.

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Taken Inside the James Joyce Center

It’s that core under the mask that matters, a story so uniquely similar to yours.

And to mine.

And to Jimmy’s.

 

 

 

Looking Back: Day 8 in Photos – Goodbye, Ireland, and Thank You!

Monday, August 22, 2016: The time has come to say goodbye to Dublin. I didn’t take many photos, but here are a few to sum up our final day. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

What did Ireland give to me? A whole hell of a lot…

I returned with over 2,000 images and even more memories.

I returned with an overwhelming sense of calm and a joyful soul.

I returned with a deeper understanding of human behavior, of James Joyce and his literature, and of what it would be like to live in Dublin.

I returned with a sense of accomplishment and awe. I still can’t believe I actually did this.

I returned filled with gratitude for every single moment I enjoyed. I am immensely thankful for not only this experience, but also for my traveling companion who joined me (by choice!) on this awesome journey.

I returned with my spirit guide still at my side. SHE has given me clarity and assurance, and continues to guide me towards my focus, which is finally clearer than ever.

Part 1 of my mission from the universe has now ended, but part 2 has already begun: writing a novel.

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I believed I could, so I did.

How about that?

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 22, 2016 and are copyrighted. However, since there’s nothing all that Earth shattering here, you have my permission to steal these images and claim them as your own!