Hey, You…

oc1_16ire_0817_0752Hey, you…

It’s been three long years since you transcended to another dimension, yet I can still hear you say “Hey, you!” in my mind as clear as ever.

I absolutely love that you are with me every single day in some way, shape or form. I know some people think I’m crazy, but I know it’s true and that you are sitting beside me more often than not. While I might not ever understand why you have chosen to tag along with me for this part of my journey here on Earth, I am so very thankful that you are my spirit guide.

With your sneaky easter eggs and more obvious messages, you’ve guided me through an absolutely incredible year. My life has changed for the better this year, mostly because of your magic. I know the story I have to tell, and because of your guidance, those words that have been buried for years and years and years are finally emerging. After years of floundering, I know my purpose and I know what I want my future to be.

I am doing my best to honor your amazing legacy by following your breadcrumbs. I hope I am making you proud and that I’m seeing the places you wanted to see but never had the chance to look upon with your own eyes, and I hope I am learning the lessons you intended for me to learn.

Please, please, please continue showing me my path and sending me the signs I need to follow. I’m counting on your strength and sass as I march through 2017 with determination and enthusiasm to accomplish my goals.

My friend, thank you for guiding me. Thank you for giving me hope and confidence. Thank you for making me excited about life and about the future. Thank you for showing me my purpose. And most of all, thank you for your friendship, which is stronger than ever.

me-and-my-friendThree years ago, my life was torn apart as a result of losing you. Three years later, my life finally makes sense because of you.

I love you, my friend, with my utmost gratitude.

 

 

 

Sea My Thanksgiving 2016 Wish for You…

As I wrote last year, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (you can read that post by clicking here).

A lot of what I wrote for last year’s post is the same exact thing I write in my journal year after year: all the things I love about Thanksgiving intertwined with memories and nostalgia. I am a true creature of habit.

I sat here pondering what to write for Thanksgiving 2016 because I wanted to mix it up a little this year and stray from that same old, same old. The movie “Animal House” was on the television, and as my words eluded me, I got completely lost in a train of memories made in a college dorm almost 25 years ago now with some of the best people I ever spent time with.

And then I entered into a thought spiral like this…

I’ll see a long, red dress and my mind will transport me to my cousin’s wedding which was over 20 years ago in California.  I’ll smell coffee brewing and I can see an old friend standing outside of her horse stable. I’ll hear anything by Billy Joel or Steve Miller and be reminded of concert days gone by. A Judy Blume book or the song “Copacabana” makes me recall my closest friends and our time together over the past 40 years. Other songs bring back recollections from Hawkapaloozas or “shows for seniors,” from bar days and the Bums, from times being silly at school or dancing in the middle of 13th Street wearing a skeleton mask.

On some days, when the sky is clear blue and the air is just the right temperature, I’m transported to recess on the playground in elementary school…to riding my bike with my friends around town during middle school…to driving with the car windows open during high school…to walking down the boardwalk drinking a cherry lemonade…to playing football on the beach or hanging on the hill or at the waterfalls or the inlet….

A telephone makes me think of an old boss. Say “McBoo” and I think of a high school friend. The word STAGE (pronounced STAYG) makes me hear the hysterical laughter of a spitfire. A baseball? Times at the stadium. A penguin? Times in Pittsburgh. I see all of the feet that walked alongside mine on the streets of New York City and in London, Florida, Pennsylvania, Kent State and Cleveland, the Bahamas, St. Thomas, Wales, and Dublin. Even the smell emanating from the local Burger King sends me back 38 or so years to an elementary school friend’s birthday party.

Then, there are days I can hear whispers in the wind, whispers of those who aren’t physically here with me anymore, but who are still with me in my heart.

I don’t believe in living in the past. However, I do believe it’s okay to look back every now and then to take an inventory of life, per se, and to realize what brought me here, to this time and place while letting the good times of yesterday make me smile.

Flashes of my childhood, middle school, high school, college, work places, my students, my community, and my path are whizzing through my brain right now, like a retrospective of sorts, filled with laughter and joy, and even some tears.

It comes down to this: It isn’t money, or fame, or possessions that make life meaningful.

It’s people.

People like YOU, who are the backbone of my memories and experiences. People like YOU, who left your footprints and heart prints along my path.

Even if you made me cry or filled me with angst, you ultimately had a positive effect by making me stronger and wiser. (Sidebar: To those I made cry or I might have filled with angst, please accept my apologies, for at times I know it was me who was the jackass.)

On this Thanksgiving 2016, I thank you for the role you have played in my journey so far, no matter how small or how big it might be…

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

With my utmost gratitude, thank you for making me breathe easier. You are, indeed, appreciated.

I wish you and yours a very special and happy Thanksgiving 2016.

~ Jill

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Something to SEA: “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt”

Last year, I started a tradition with my niece and nephew that turned out to be much more fun than I had ever hoped for.

I noticed just how many Christmas Trees were on display in business windows and in other public places around town, and I thought that it would be pretty neat to take a picture of every tree I saw.

Thus this new holiday tradition of “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt” was born.

My nephew is Agent 101 (he is now 11), with my niece as Agent 202 (is now 13). I am Agent 303, boss of the mission. I recycled our Agent names from a game we played several years ago when my nephew devised these names for each of us. Sidebar: Agent 101 didn’t give my husband (his uncle) an Agent name; rather, he named him Dr. Coconut.

Anyway, I kept a running list of the trees I saw, then added to it every day as my husband and I would make our daily rounds and beach runs.

slide7I then began to “tease” my two co-agents with cryptic messages after I set a date with my sister-in-law as to when our “Operation” could take place. I would leave messages like the one to the left in their mailbox (I know the images are a bit blurry-if you click on them, you will be able to read them better).

Agent 101 and Agent 202 accepted the mission, even though they had no idea what I was up to! All they knew is that they were going to spend the afternoon with their crazy aunt, and it had nothing to do with Six Flags or Artie Farty (yeah, my sister-in-law loves me for teaching the kiddos all sorts of inappropriate ditties like that).

On the mission date, each agent was dressed in black and all ready to go at the designated pick up time of 2:30 pm. I handed over their “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt” Classified Folders, which contained the mission instructions, a pen, a map of all of the trees I knew of, and a list in “route order,” so to speak, of the places we would be stopping.slide3

As they read the instructions, they were laughing and loving it:

Today’s Mission:

  1. Rapidly enter the buildings on the Map.
  2. Say NOTHING.
  3. Stand in front of the formal Christmas tree. 
  4. Smile for a photo. 
  5. Rapidly exit the building.

Agent 101 and Agent 202 had a lot of fun sneaking around and became more stealthy with each mission location. I was glad that none of the businesses gave us a hard time about going into their stores just for a picture with their tree. In fact, many of the people working at each spot laughed and loved the idea.

We ended up with photographs of 49 different Christmas Trees, most of them from my map, but we found others along our journey too. When they would find a new one, they would scream, “There’s one! Can we use that one too?” My answer was slide1always “Of course!” Both agents were silent for each business visit and neither uttered a word inside any of the stops along the way. Their poses in each picture are a crack-up, too (I didn’t include any so as to protect their privacy), and as I am looking at the pictures now, I am literally laughing out loud.

Photo 22 is actually a picture of the agents with Dr. Coconut posing as a tree; they wanted to stop by and say hi to their uncle to include him in our mission.

When Operation Christmas Tree Hunt 2015 was completed, I took them out to dinner to celebrate our successful mission.

I made a photo book for each Agent with the pictures I took. Even though the books didn’t arrive until January, they didn’t care. Agent 101 and Agent 202 loved their books just the same.

I’m already keeping a list of the trees I spot for this year’s Operation Christmas Tree Hunt, but I’m going to make a few changes to the mission parameters. This year, I am going to add riddles to some of the stops, where Agent 101 and Agent 202 will have to figure out the next stop along the way instead of plotting every location on the map. I’m also going to make “Thank You” cards for the Agents to hand to each business. Agent 303 (me) will keep some singles in my pocket, and if a business has a charity collection bucket, I’ll have Agent 101 or Agent 202 give a dollar towards the cause.  Maybe next season we can call up Agent 404 (my 5-year-old nephew) to the ranks of big kid Agent and have him join us for our adventures.

slide5Agents 101 and 202 might not remember the present I gave them last year or the year before. However, I know Agent 101 and Agent 202 will always remember Operation Christmas Tree Hunt and the many laughs they shared with mission boss Agent 303 along the journey.

I know Agent 303 will.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Wave Is Here

I am happy to say that my pain and fatigue seem to be check, which makes each day better than the last. Here’s hoping that the “good day” streak continues…it will, because like I wrote in a previous post, my purpose is stronger than my pain, and I must believe that.

I’d like to share something else with you, something pretty extraordinary that I’ve alluded to in previous posts, but now it is most certain…

Imagine that you’ve lost something very special to you. It doesn’t matter if has sentimental or monetary value. When you realize you cannot find it, that it’s truly gone…that sick feeling in the pit of your gut begins to churn. It starts out small but gets worse by the second.  It feeds a frenzy of worry as you search for it, lifting up cushions, throwing clothes all over the place, making a colossal mess. As you retrace your steps, that sick feeling almost becomes unbearable. Part of you wants to vomit, while part of you wants to curl up in a ball and cry. You pray to Saint Anthony, hoping that it is returned to you, or to a higher power as you ask for help. Through the tears, you drop to the floor and admit defeat.

“It’s gone,” you say, crestfallen. “I’ll never have it again.”

If you imagine the above scenario with losing something physical, like a piece of jewelry or a $100 bill, you might consider posting a picture of your lost item on social media. Whether or not you find it again, life will almost certainly return to normal as you go about your days.

If it is a person you lose, it will undoubtedly be a longer grieving period. You might never recover from that absence in your life.

In my case, the thing I lost is very personal to me.

It’s my soul. Or at least, part of it.

There’s been a huge hole there for so long, a missing piece of the puzzle per se. My whole purpose in starting this blog was a way to “sea”k my soul so I could maybe find my focus, find my purpose, to fill that soul hole with what’s been eluding me for so long.

I’m sure you have sensed the longing in my posts over the past year and a half.

The best way I can sum up that feeling is to describe how I feel when I listen to the song “Encore” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Anthony Kiedis sings some very poignant lyrics, each line with a very personal meaning, almost like it was written just for me. The music is an escape, while simultaneously, a trap. It makes me look around curiously at what physically surrounds me on the external, and also go introspective and look at what is internal, what surrounds my soul.

When I listen to “Encore,” I think of times past for a fleeting second. I’m reassured I’m in the right place even though I am adrift and incomplete…”Hey, you’re fine…hold my hand…results are gonna vary now…”

At the end of the song, I feel a longing so large, but no idea what I am longing for. I am empty, yet content. I am safe and secure, while simultaneously uncertain and vulnerable.

One big, giant, bewildered, unfulfilling yet satisfying sigh…the best way to describe that feeling of longing.

Don’t get me wrong…there have been many extraordinary times in my life filled with adventures and laughter, accomplishment and happiness and wonder.

All the while, that hole is there just under the surface, surrounded by pieces from every single experience thus far on my life journey that fit together as one.

I prayed to St. Anthony in a feeble attempt to find what’s missing. He usually helps me when I’ve lost something, even though I’m not Catholic or overly religious, and when he does I am very quick to thank him. But when I asked him to come around so I could find the missing piece that would make my soul complete, his answer was an emphatic NOPE. “You are on your own,” he said.

I stare at a blank page when I have so much to get out, so many words and stories to share, so many lessons to teach, so many laughs to enjoy, all on top of the urgency to live this crazy and wonderful life…

Words.

Stories.

Lessons.

Laughter and Life.

I think I see something here.

I know I’ve improved over the past year on finding the right words, and more importantly, in getting those words out of my head and onto a screen or paper. And I know I have a few stories currently living rent free in my mind that need to be told…it’s time they start earning their keep.

my-soulJust like that, I finally know my purpose.

  • Writing
  • Teaching
  • Living

Instead of feeling bewildered, I am wrapped in a blanket of assurance and certainty.

Why did it take this long to figure it out? It’s so simple and obvious. Again, I am the chump who fought seeing the truth, when all along, it was right here on the surface.

The wave is here, and today, I rise.

Instead of “I think” and “I wish,” it’s now “I know” and “I will.”

I will write a book (or two or three). I will write for my blog. I will write for my assignments from my magazine publisher. I will teach my lessons, both in the classroom and through my writing. I will laugh while living every single moment of every day.

I will use my time more wisely as I pursue my purpose and calling while completing my mission from the universe.

Being OPEN actually brought me clarity. I waited so long for it, and here it is, unwavering and true. As I was determined to be OPEN, now I am resolute to be FOCUSED.

I am already transformed.

And SHE says, “It’s about time.”

Time to write, with a focus on my stories.

Time to teach, with a focus on my lessons.

Time to laugh.

And time to LIVE.

It’s finally time for my “Encore.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Looking Back: Day 7 in Pictures: Bray

On Sunday, August 21, 2016, we packed up and left Tara Towers Hotel and headed south to Bray. Tara Towers was booked when I made the reservations, plus it was neat to venture out to a new area. Our hotel for the night was The Martello Hotel, right across from the Irish Sea. Bray was a fun and festive place. If you are familiar with the Jersey Shore, it was part Belmar, part Manasquan, and part Point Pleasant Beach. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

Bray was the vacation from the vacation and I really enjoyed it. The only thing I would change would be to build an elevator at The Martello Hotel. We had to climb a lot of stairs to get to our room with our bags, which was a little difficult. Otherwise, everything was splendid. If you would like to learn more about any of the places from today’s post, please visit these links:

Bray, Ireland

The Martello Hotel

The Harbour Bar

Katie Taylor

Coming tomorrow: Day 8: Goodbye, Ireland!

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 21, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance

Looking Back: Dublin Day 6 (Part 2) in Pictures: Dalkey

After leaving the James Joyce Tower and Museum on Saturday, August 20, 2016, we walked to Dalkey. The water was so beautiful and blue. Dalkey began as a Viking settlement and was an important port. These days, it is a very cute little village. It also was part of Ulysses’s plot. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

The rainbow was definitely a sign. If you would like to learn more about the places from today, please visit these links:

Bulloch Castle

Dalkey Castle and Heritage Center

Discover Dalkey: An Illustrated Guide

Dalkey Village

The Corner Note Cafe

The Gutter Bookshop

Coming tomorrow: Day 7: Bray

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 20, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance. 

 

 

Looking Back: Dublin Day 6 (Part 1) In Pictures: Sandycove and James Joyce Tower

Saturday, August 20, 2016, was my sixth day in Dublin. I couldn’t wait to get started on my adventure today! We took the DART to Sandycove, about a 15-minute ride or so. From the station, we made our way along the waterfront and walked to the James Joyce Tower. Some history about the tower: James Joyce stayed here for a short time, and it is the location where Chapter 1, Telemachus, in James Joyce’s Ulysses begins. The Tower has so many James Joyce artifacts and displays. If you are a fan of literature, the James Joyce Tower is worth checking out.

If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

It was amazing to be in the same spot as James Joyce. My footprints walked in his footprints, and also walked in those of Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan. If you would like to learn more about the locations mentioned in today’s post, please visit these links:

James Joyce Tower and Museum Site 1

James Joyce Tower and Museum Site 2

Sandycove Beach

Sandycove and Glasthule

Coming tomorrow: Day 6 Part 2: Dalkey.

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 20, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance.