May 46 Be With You

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

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

I wanted a Star Wars party, too.

So I had one.

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

It turned out to be my most favorite birthday ever.

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

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

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

What you ask? A bag of rocks?

Absolutely.

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

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

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

46 is going to be an awesome year.

May 46 be with you.

wordOnward, writer!

Jill

16,801 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 45th Year in Facts and Statistics:

Number of Yankees Home Games I attended:  2

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

Number of presentations I gave at conferences:  2

Favorite Summer Song: Encore by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Favorite Winter Song:  Bad by U2

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

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

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

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

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

Number of pins I added to my collection:  28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My LIVING 45 Bucket List

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

My Theme for 2017

I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a new year with such excitement and anticipation before.  Man, am I full of over the moon silliness as I wait to greet 2017, just like I was as a child waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve!

I think the reason is the word, scratch that, theme I’ve adopted for the upcoming year. It’s personal and powerful. It’s invigorating and exciting. And I find it so overwhelmingly awesome that I created a logo for it (sidebar: The logo was a vision in my dream the other night. Seriously, another breadcrumb from the great beyond!).

Take a look, then read all about the symbolism contained in my theme and logo that will guide me through 2017:

word

My SLOGAN for 2017: Onward, writer! I will march forth and write my novel and then some. I have created a personal writing schedule that is in harmony with my professional responsibilities and my health issues.  My goal is to finish my first novel draft by the end of Spring, then to use the summer to revise, edit, and hopefully find an agent or publishing house that might be interested in it, my first of many stories. I also have a vision/idea to emphasize the mantra that today is everything, but I need to focus first on completing my novel. My schedule and plan can be adapted as needed due to unforeseen circumstances, but I will not allow myself any excuses for not writing. It is, indeed, time to follow my dream and to march forward, pen in hand.

My ADVICE for 2017: Look around! I intend to take full stock in each and every moment, and to see what is both physically and symbolically present. I will continue to be open as life guides me through each day as I find the extraordinary in the ordinary. The song “Look Around” by Red Hot Chili Peppers will be the first song that I will listen to every morning, followed by Blackbird

The black bird with the pen is an allusion to the song Blackbird by The Beatles:

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Yes, I have waited for this moment my entire life. It’s time, and I will write with enthusiasm, focus, and vigor.
The heart with the three icons represents my heart and soul:
  • The top left Triskelion, or Celtic triple spiral, is the symbol of my spirit guide as I still yearn for her guidance while I continue to be her light. Interesting fact: This is the first symbol that appeared in a dream/vision over a year ago, much like my theme’s logo. While in Ireland, I spotted it all over the place, even inside the tomb at Newgrange. Suffice it to say that this symbol, which is more than 3,000 years old, is significant on numerous levels (past-present-future, spirit-mind-body and more).
  • The two waves in the top right represent my goal of learning to surf in 2017. I have always wanted to learn how to surf, and 2017 will be the year I cross this off my bucket list. I have created a schedule and a plan to physically prepare my body with exercises and strategies for surfing each week until mid-summer when I plan to take private lessons. I do have some obstacles to overcome, such as hating my eyes to be wet and muscle stiffness from Lupus, but my desire to surf is stronger than these obstacles. I plan to document my experience through words and photos, and I don’t care if people laugh at me. My connection to the sea is strong, and I want to surf, dammit!
  • The heart inside the heart is a reminder to keep my soul and my heart happy and at the forefront of every decision. I will balance my priorities of living, learning, loving, laughing, writing, and teaching the lessons that need to be taught while keeping what matters most in perspective and in my heart.

Finally, the ghosted CLOCK FACE is a reminder about how quickly time is passing by. I will stop wasting time on things that do not make my soul or heart happy, or things that divert my focus from my true purpose. With this practice in place since mid-December, so far, so good.

I plan to hold myself accountable for all of my 2017 goals by setting firm intentions and reflecting upon my progress at least twice a month, if not more.

I want to sing and dance as the seconds tick towards 2017 while screaming my excitement from the rooftops!

Welcome, 2017! I’m so excited to meet you!

Onward, writer…let’s do this!

Until next time,

Jill

 

 

Something to SEA: Thank You For Your Gifts, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Will Your 2017 Verse Be?

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

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

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

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

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

As Walt Whitman wrote,

YOU ARE HERE.

LIFE EXISTS, AND IDENTITY.

THE POWERFUL PLAY GOES ON.

AND YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE A VERSE.

So, the question is my friend,

What will your verse be?

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

Why?  Because…

I AM HERE.

My life exists.

I finally know my worth.

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

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

Happy New Year, friend!

With love,Jill

Jill

What Will YOur Verse Be Full Square

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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Seeking Calm In The Biggest City In The World….

I spent Monday with a dear friend wandering around New York City. I’ve always loved spending time in the Big Apple, and this day was no exception. We had no itinerary and no real plans of places to go other than to find the New York Public Library and Library Way. For the most part, our plan was just to wander and be.

You’d think that in a city as large and as loud as New York City it would be difficult to find a place for calm and peace, especially on this day:  the day before this year’s tumultuous Election Day, and one with numerous terror warnings issued as well.

Well, we found not only one but many. And I have been mentally escaping to each amid the post-Election rancor and animosity over the past 36 hours.

oc1_20161107_nyc-61

We took an early train and were on the streets exploring before the time our first-period block class would normally end. Ironically enough, fate brought me a chance meeting on 33rd street during rush hour with a very special former student! We talked for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. Within a few minutes, my friend and I were in Bryant Park.

I’ve passed by Bryant Park before but never wandered into it. And I am so glad I did this time.

It was before 9:00 AM as we walked by the boutique shops set up as a part of Bryant Park’s Winter Village, then we soon found ourselves in front of the skating rink. (Sidebar: it’s free admission! And the price to rent skates was very reasonable!)

oc1_20161107_nyc-79There were about 25 or so skaters making their way around the ice rink at that time, some by themselves, some holding the hand of a little one, some couples skating together, some doing advanced spins and jumps in the center of the rink. Jazz music was playing, and each person skating was enjoying their moment on the ice, sans technology and to do list. There was even a man in a suit skating round and round the rink, sometimes passing us by facing forward, sometimes skating backward.

It was a sight to be had, a very peaceful and serene sight so early in the morning. I could have stayed there all day watching this calm and refreshing scene amid the hustle and bustle of the city.

oc1_20161107_nyc-108After a while, we made our way to the next block in hopes of visiting the New York Public Library, but as fate would have it, the main branch was closed for a fund-raiser. At least I got pictures of the front steps where Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz ran down in the first part of the original “Ghostbuster” movie. Yes, you can see what motivates me sometimes!

We instead visited a smaller branch of the NYPL across the street. We found the NYPL Collection of Photographs room and perused the pictures in the folder for John Lennon, which we agreed was a great subject considering his rich history with New York City.

oc1_20161107_nyc-175 About 45 minutes later, we left the library and found Library Way. We then spent the next 45 minutes or so taking pictures of each of the literary and library focused bronze markers along the 2-block stretch of 41st Street between Pershing Square and the NYPL main branch.

I found this peaceful yet energizing as I have been writing a novel of my own and needed some inspiration. These quotes from writers such as William Styron, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, and more lit a fire under me, so to speak, and were a push in the right direction for me to get going with my work.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

At the end of Library Walk, we turned left and took in Grand Central Terminal, another iconic NYC location that I had never visited before. What a beautiful place, so much different than Penn Station. The building was beautiful with marble and brass and good white light everywhere. As I stopped in the main terminal area to take some photographs, it amazed me that with so many people passing by, it wasn’t crazy and chaotic at all. An added bonus was seeing so many people proudly wearing the 2016 New York City Marathon medals, which took place the day before. Here I was surrounded by people from all over the world in one of the busiest locations in the city, yet it was calming, just like what I experienced at Bryant Park’s ice skating rink only two hours earlier.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

Our bellies were calling, so we went to the dining concourse level and….man! So many places to choose from! We decided upon Shake Shack and were both very pleased with our choice. I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff and the cleanliness of the entire concourse, but that didn’t compare in the slightest with how happy I was with my chocolate milkshake and cheeseburger lunch. So good! And they had crinkle cut fries (my favorite) cooked just right. Again, I looked around to take in where I was at that moment, and still couldn’t believe how peaceful it was despite so many people.

Our day would then take us back through Bryant Park, which was now filled with people, to visit the shops and take in more of the Winter Village atmosphere. Each little store that sold food contributed its own aroma to the wonderful smells that teased my nose and my stomach. More people were skating now, or sitting at a little table enjoying lunch or a coffee, or buying a new pair of gloves, or reading a book to their child in the children’s area, or even demonstrating their juggling skills. It was glorious, a true amalgam of human behaviors all rolled up into one giantly awesome oc1_20161107_nyc-278experience. I was only a watcher, but I was present for each and every moment and observed all that made up the human experience at this moment in time.

My friend and I took our time leaving, then also took our time wandering back towards Herald Square. Upon stopping for a minute outside of Macy’s we looked to our left and there it was, the grand and majestic Empire State Building. Despite the numerous photographs of the building from ground level we have both already taken, we shot a few more to add to our collections.

Then we looked at each other…we had almost two hours to spare until the 3:45 train home, so we decided why the hell not? We played tourist and went to the top of the Empire State Building! It was a great day to do so, as the lines were very reasonable. Again, there were a lot of people with marathon medals around their necks. I congratulated one man from the Netherlands who was here in the USA by himself. That got me thinking…so many people pursuing their dream HERE, a place that’s only like 70 miles or so from where I live. It put a lot into perspective….

oc1_20161107_nyc-371Anyway, we stopped first at the 82nd-floor observatory, which was surrounded by glass. I looked down upon Macy’s Herald Square where we literally were only 30 minutes prior. The glare from the sun on the Freedom Tower side did not lead to great photos, but it was still so awesome to see.

Before long, we then went to the open-air 86th floor. Speechless. I was just speechless. Looking out above almost everything else in sight, the sun lighting up buildings I had walked past earlier in the day…just too awesome for words. I found Bryant Park and that weird building next to it that reminded me of “Spook Central” (Ghostbusters reference again), Madison Square Garden, the George Washington Bridge, and so much more. I tried to find Yankee Stadium with my own eye but couldn’t do so; later on, after I uploaded my photos to my computer, I did find it once I zoomed in.

What sticks with me? Here I was at the top of the Empire State Building, looking down upon millions and millions of people going about their day, and it was quiet, almost silent at times save for the breeze. I thought of people traveling from all over the world to stand in the same location I was standing in because it was an item on their bucket list. I remembered looking from the same vantage point 20+ years ago with my California cousins, the only other time I did so. Why did I not enjoy these sights more often?

I realized how much I do take for granted, and that life is pretty damn good.

When it was time to leave, I purchased an Empire State Building pin from the souvenir store to add to my collection and then we descended back to ground level. Once we got to Penn Station, we stopped at Zaro’s Bakery for our traditional NYC trip cookie and were on the 3:45 train headed home. We remarked how the world was going to change “tomorrow” (election day), and we were thankful to enjoy a day in the city to escape and just be before life changes for all of us.

As I write this, I’m listening to Jazz music, thinking of the skating rink, and my soul is happy.

I’m selecting which pictures to ultimately attach to this post and when I look at each one, I recall the exact minute it was taken…the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the aura of each moment frozen in time yet willing to be experienced again and again.

I’m escaping into calm as my NYC day memories, free from protest and violence, trump the hateful animosity rearing its ugly head minute by minute on my social media feeds (no pun intended?).

Most of all, I’m thankful that I have a friend who loves wandering, observing, and experiencing life as I do. Thank you, friend. 🙂

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on November 7, 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.

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Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
From the top of the Empire State Building
From the top of the Empire State Building

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Thank You, Chicago Cubs…We Need You SO Much!

This year’s MLB playoff season was the best that I can remember. As the first games began, I wasn’t necessarily rooting for any specific teams, although I had a soft spot for two of them. One was the Cleveland Indians, in part because of Andrew Miller (since the Yankees traded him and Ardolis Chapman, I was hoping for a World Series Ring for one of them), and as an 80’s teen, in part because of the movie Major League.

The other team I was hoping would do well was the Chicago Cubs for a number of reasons. One was pitcher Jon Lester. If you know his story, you know how he survived Lymphoma only to come back less than two years later and pitch Game 7 of the 2007 World Series, which he won for the Red Sox. That alone is just amazing, and a true story of victory amid a terrible hand dealt by life. However, Jon Lester earned my utmost respect in 2014 when he appeared in Nike’s “Resp2ct” saying farewell to Derek Jeter. Lester, in his Red Sox uniform, was seen ready to pitch to Jeter, and Lester was the first one to tip his hat, which led to many other greats also tipping their hat in a show of respect and thanks to the Yankee Captain. Lester didn’t let his uniform or fandom define his loyalties.

Of course, the 108-year drought and the stories accompanying the Cubs history made each and every victory more amazing. The Indians, in their own right, were hoping to erase their own 68-year drought.

Unfortunately, my bedtime was not conducive to watching the games in their entirety, but I did my best to watch what I could before my eyelids went on strike.

If you are interested in reading a recap of the 2016 MLB Playoff Season, there are plenty of other sites to help you do that. These are some of my simple observations and reactions to the 2016 World Series, things that I will remember, and things that gave (and still give me) hope.

Seeing the individual stories of each team, each player, and fans from both sides hoping for a victory were a lesson in loyalty and in perseverance. From a man who drove to his father’s grave to listen to game 7, to the stories of fellow humans well into their golden years, each snippet of a glimpse into the lives of these people when combined is the true definition of loyalty. The anthems performed by John Vincent and the Cleveland Orchestra, alongside “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sung by Bill Murray, Vince Vaughan, and Eddie Vedder unified us and brought us all together, regardless of stadium or team.

108 years versus 68 years is historic in its own right, but seeing individual feats of history during the series, especially in Game 7, was equally momentous. Corey Kluber’s amazing pitching in games 1 and 4 was a force to be reckoned with. Kluber broke a record in Game 1 with 8 strikeouts in the first 3 innings. Dexter Fowler hitting the first lead-off home run in Game 7 history…David Ross becoming the oldest MLB player to ever hit a home-run in the world series, and accomplishing this in his final MLB game ever…Game 7 with a tie, and a rain delay, and a 10-inning hit by Ben Zobrist, ultimately clinching it for the Cubs…the crowds outside of Wrigley waiting for that final out, then erupting with sheer joy as did the players…the class of the Indians fans and players who realized that even though victory wasn’t theirs this year, that they were witnessing history and demonstrating true sportsmanship…the raising of the W…I could go on, and on…

And after the Cubs victory, the tributes on the wall of Wrigley to those who couldn’t witness this historic moment?

How about the one that read, “We Did Not Suck.”? That one got me, especially considering my last blog post titled “Because You Are Good.”

The parade, the images of school late sign-ins with the reasons being CUBS or INDIANS, the skits on SNL…

All in all, the Chicago Cubs, along with the Cleveland Indians, have brought joy and good to the American public now, a diversion when we need it the most, during this awful time of animosity, judgment, and hatred caused by the election.

Thank you for bringing us that joy. Thank you.

Congratulations David Ross! Linked to the Chicago Tribune.