Nitro’s Check Mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Nitro.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

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

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

I was completely wrong.

Nitro nearly killed me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bye!” they yelled in unison.

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

Dammit.

I knew what I had to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

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

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

This is it.

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

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

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

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

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

“Hold on!”

The car suddenly came to a halting stop.

And I was alive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Roller Coaster: Nitro. Check mark achieved.

 

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

It’s Summertime, and the living is fine!

The sunshine and humidity, the heat and the storms, the tastes and the feels…. man, summer is my time of year, but as the car commercials warn, it’s only available for a limited time. I composed a “Summer Bucket List” filled with experiences I hope to enjoy this summer as both a way of embracing the season and as a vain attempt to hold onto it just a little bit longer.  My list is fluid and has changed a bit since I first penned it as I have said yes to unexpected opportunities while realizing that others just aren’t going to happen. I am keenly aware of the importance of the present moment, and that includes saying yes on a whim and also to leaving technology behind. My intention in sharing this is to highlight some of the wonderful places here along the Jersey shore as well as perhaps inspire readers to comprise their own “Summer Bucket List.”

Some Places I’ve Visited and Experienced:

IMG_6956Seaside Park Kite Night: Kite Night is held every Wednesday evening from 6-9 pm at J Street Beach in Seaside Park. What a sight it is to see the kites flying up and down the beach sky spanning both north and south from J Street in person. I went with my family and we brought beach chairs and Jersey Mike’s subs for dinner. The kids played in the sand and looked for treasures as kites of all sizes and types flew their long ribbons proudly or spun among the clouds. You can learn more about Kite Night here.

IMG_7121The Chicken or the Egg: A landmark for sure, Long Beach Island’s iconic eatery should be on everyone’s life “must visit” list. My niece’s birthday is in March but the Chegg, as it is locally known, is only open during the summer, so when she asked me to take her, I wholeheartedly obliged. We had to wait about half an hour for a table for two and it was worth it; friends told me about using the “No Wait” app afterwards, so I’m looking into that for my next visit. E and I didn’t mind the wait at all, and we were completely satisfied with our lunch. She had stuffed French toast with chocolate chips, and I had the fried chicken platter. My chicken and biscuit were both homemade and served with fries and a cup of honey. It was simply delicious. The kitschy surf culture/antiques décor complemented the tables that had comic book type prints on them. The Chegg is open 24 hours during the season. You can learn more about The Chegg here.

IMG_7117New Jersey Maritime Museum: I love Jersey Shore history, especially learning about shipwrecks, and I’ve been looking forward to visiting the New Jersey Maritime Museum in LBI for a long time. Did you know that there were over 3,500 shipwrecks off the coast of Monmouth and Ocean counties alone? Well, the New Jersey Maritime Museum has records about each and every wreck along the New Jersey coast, as well as a host of artifacts and historical information spanning back to the birth of New Jersey. There’s one room that is solely dedicated to the Morro Castle, which burned off Asbury Park in 1934, including artifacts from the ship. The only complaint I had was a result of my own planning: I didn’t give myself enough time to really delve into the wonderful displays, books, artifacts, and documents available to visitors (a second visit is already in the works). The New Jersey Maritime Museum is a non-profit organization and focuses on education, providing research, and To learn more about the New Jersey Maritime Museum, whether you plan to visit, attend their annual fundraiser (which will be held this year on September 8), make a donation, or become a volunteer, visit their website at www.njmm.org. The museum is open June-August daily from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and from September through May every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

IMG_6741Lakewood BlueClaws Game: It wouldn’t be summer without attending a Lakewood BlueClaws game, and as luck would have it, I went to their “Star Wars Night” with my family. The BlueClaws defeated the Hagerstown Suns 8-0 with their 18th shutout of the year and an action-packed six-run sixth inning including a home run by Josh Stephen.. The BlueClaws are the single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, and over 75 BlueClaws players and counting have made it from the Shore to the Show, ultimately playing in the big leagues. The stadium is clean, food and souvenirs are reasonably priced, and the games are fun to watch. The BlueClaws offer a lot for kids and families, too. Last year, I wrote an article about the BlueClaws which you can read here. To learn more about the Lakewood BlueClaws or to purchase tickets, visit their website at https://www.milb.com/lakewood.

Love and Laughter: Summer gives me so many opportunities to spend time with the younger people in my life who matter in my heart the most, my five nieces and nephews. Whether they tackle each other as they try to climb up me or tell me a silly joke, I do my best to say YES to plans with them as much as possible. I also love spending time with my friends and other family members during my carefree summer days.

Books I’ve Read:

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume (this is the first book I read every summer)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Seven by Erin Shorosky (poetry)

What’s on my to do list?

I’m currently working on my assignments for the Fall/Holiday 2018 issue of Jersey Shore Magazine including articles and editorial work. I plan to post more here with the intention of positively highlighting life here at the Jersey Shore. I’m Dublin-bound on July 31 for a week, and I hope my jaunt this year provides me with the ability to communicate with words that Dublin feeling of awakening and rebirth I experience. Revising and editing my novel is very challenging, but I’m following the signs that are leading me to a better story with hopefully improved writing and character development.

What’s on your summer bucket list? What can you see and experience in reality versus through technology?

Remember, Summer is only here for a limited time…cross something off your Summer Bucket List today!

Until next time,

Jill

*** This entry is cross-posted on my blog at jillocone.com. I was not compensated in any way for my positive comments about establishments, events, places, or people mentioned in my post.

Let’s LIVE This August!

Since I’m feeling almost exactly the same way today, I decided to reblog my post from the beginning of August 2016 with some minor updates…read on:

August is like the Sunday of Summer.

It sure is.

Don’t get me wrong…I still love every summer day. I just want to hold onto Summer so much. It’s my season, when I am my best self.

June is a new beginning, a giant sigh of relief. It’s full of opportunity and wonder, like January 1 kicks off every year. Anything is possible. It’s refreshing and reassuring. It’s also deceiving, leading us on to believe that there’s plenty of time to get our summer “to do” and “to enjoy” lists completed.

Then comes July, which is like my favorite pillow. I can hug it a thousand times, or play with it over and over, and it never loses its shape. It’s there when I wake, and when I say goodnight to the day. I can sleep soundly with that comforting pillow, free from worries and nightmares. It reassures me that tomorrow is another day when I can still start fresh, no need to really be concerned about the passing days…

As July wanes into August, things change again, ever so subtly. Each day is now filled with a little more urgency. Sunsets get earlier as the sun’s early evening slant changes its angle and becomes less intense day by day. Many of the bright summer flowers have lost their blooms, and nights become slightly cooler by the week. I look back at June and July, and wonder where the hell those days went. I then look ahead at what’s still on my summer goal lists, removing a few because there’s no longer enough time to accomplish everything I had hoped to do.

The lone cricket’s serenade that woke me early this morning affirmed that yes, it is indeed August already.

So, what do we do now?

Let’s live in the present and forget our lists.

Let’s turn off our notifications and stop being a slave to technology.

Let’s hold onto each moment, to each day, to each experience.

Let’s notice the breeze blowing through our hair and feel the rain on our skin.

Let’s put our feet in the salt water and find eternity in the waves.

Let’s savor the ice cream cone, the watermelon, the corn on the cob, the peaches and plums.

Let’s laugh and sing with family and friends.

Let’s be grateful for all that we have, for all that we are, for all that we do, and for all in our lives.

Let’s face each day without worry, without fear, and without strings attached.

Let’s soak up every single second of August without leaving any wasted time behind.

Let’s live.

Let’s live this August.

 

Growing Pains

Last week, I watched Inside Out for probably the tenth time. I’ll be honest and admit that I am 46 years old, yet I tear up at a few of the scenes in the film. Spoiler alert here…if you plan on seeing the movie someday and don’t want to know anything about the plot, I’d suggest you stop reading here and move along…

OK, since you’re still reading, I’ve either peaked your interest, you’ve already seen the movie, or you didn’t pay attention…if that’s the case, SNAP OUT OF IT BEFORE I RUIN THE FILM FOR YOU! 😊

Anyway, especially at the end of Inside Out, when Joy realizes she needs Sadness…man, I’m a blubbering idiot watching Riley cry because she’s been trying to put a positive face on for her parents but is really sad about moving. It’s in that moment that Joy realizes that her favorite core memory from Riley’s life is also Sadness’ but for different reasons. Joy and Sadness need each other to work, as do Anger, Disgust, and Fear.

There’s another part in Inside Out that absolutely kills me. It’s when Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from her childhood, and Joy are trying to escape the “memory” dump to get back to Sadness and the control center. They sing the ‘Bing Bong’ song to power his rocket:

Who’s your friend who likes to play?

Bing Bong, Bing Bong

His rocket makes you yell “Hooray!”

Bing Bong, Bing Bong

Who’s the best in every way, and wants to sing this song to say

Bing Bong, Bing Bong!

Bing Bong realizes they are too heavy to make it to the top of the cavern, and on the last attempt, he jumps off and Joy soars forward in the rocket. Joy looks back as she clears the dump, and Bing Bong waves as he slowly disappears, which symbolizes Riley maturing to a point where she’ll forget her childhood imaginary friend.

Cue the crying. Holy crap, I’m a mess.

I remember that time in my life, teetering between childhood and young personhood but not quite ready to leap forward, with one particular memory crystal clear in my mind’s eye. I was swinging on the swing set in my back yard, somewhere around 9 or 10 years old, and I knew I wasn’t a kid anymore but I didn’t want to grow up just yet. I cried so hard in that moment, and even though it was so long ago, it feels like it was yesterday.

Without children of my own, it’s harder for me to relate to such a lesson as a parent. I imagine the parents reading this can recall not only a similar moment in their own lives when they were faced with having to forge ahead into young personhood from childhood, but the moments when their children made that leap as well.

I did, however, experience a small episode of a disappearing Bing Bong last week. While at the boardwalk with my two nephews, the six-year-old H wanted to go on the ride with the boats. As he walked up to hand his ticket card, the ride attendant pointed at the sign indicating the maximum height of riders, and H was a smidge too tall to go on the ride. This was the first time he was too big for any of the rides. He looked at me with a quivering lip and tear-filled eyes, then ran over to me and hugged me tight as he let those tears out. And I let him cry it out while I held him tight, crying inside myself but trying to keep a strong exterior so that I didn’t further upset him or his brother. Within a minute, he regrouped and we moved on to ride the balloon Ferris wheel ride, where all three of us were the acceptable height.

This two-minute long experience made me realize that it’s got to be so much harder for parents watching their own children cross that threshold from childhood to young personhood. My sympathies are truly with you.

Watching Bing Bong dissolve a day later brought that look of sadness on H’s face flooding back to memory. I cried a little harder at this part in the movie this time because I thought of H and how his own personal Bing Bong was a tad less clear than it had been earlier in the month.

That’s the sucky part about maturing and growing up. Life has its stages and it’s all part of our plan, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. H is growing up, as we all do, and it’s not easy. What I can do for H is to be there ready with hugs and understanding whenever he needs me. That goes for all of my nieces and nephews.

I get it.

Yesterday, I took my very own pinwheel out of my shed and let it blow in the breeze. Then I bounced my purple ball on the sidewalk a few times. I blew some bubbles into the air and spun around. I hugged my Mickey Mouse, Pusheen cat, Boba Fett, dinosaur, and tiger stuffed toys, then stacked a few of my Tsum Tsum figures in new formations.

Earlier today, I received a text from my sister-in-law with a picture of a rare, new Tsum Tsum figure the boys got in a blind bag. They were both excited to show it to me.

And I was even more excited to know they finally got their three peas in a pod.

My own, personal Bing Bong is as clear and as bright and as alive as he ever was.

Saying YES to LIFE this Summer

Summer 2017, Day 25: July 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Next Time,

Jill

 

What’s There To Be Afraid Of, Anyway?

Summer 2017, Day 4: June 24

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

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

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

What was there, really, to be afraid of?

Nothing.

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

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

No.

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

Now, let’s take that a step further.

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

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

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

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

Did the worst ever happen?

No.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll simply just start over again.

No worries.

And no fear.

 

 

 

Welcome, Summer!

Summer 2017-Day 01: Welcome, Summer!

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

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

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

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

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

I hope your day was glorious, too.

Until next time,

Jill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy shit, indeed.

Grandpa had a sister I never knew about.

Mind blown. Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

A reply from AT’s sister.

Scratch that.

A reply from my first cousin once removed, KT.

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

Man, my father would have loved all of this!

Grandpa C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me Holding Grandpa C.’s Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Family.

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!