The month kicked off with a great 4th July Party at my friend's The Hallidays. I made these sprinkle topped pretzels to bring with me. Which could be adapted with different coloured sprinkles to be made at any time of year. The party was just perfect. Laughter and dancing, great food, and super conversation. And, singing, oh the singing, of wonderful Irish and American folk songs. We sang around a camp fire to the early hours of the morning. I gave some renditions of Janice Joplin's 'Oh Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes..." and Christy Moore's "Ride On".
I spent a lot of the month traveling right across Eastern Coast of Northern Ireland for work, and after a particularly gruelling day, I took some time to shower my head, and walk along this beach - Whitepark Bay - just as the sun was setting, and I caught this image.
Northern Ireland is a country that is coming out of years of darkness, and there is great hope for the future, but how deeply ingrained some of the hatred is, still has the power to shock me. At a lunch with an older man, a senior statesman, with significant power in the Ulster Scots movement, I was told ...
"Nicky, I really didn't think I would like you because of your surname and who you are. But you are a good girl. Your a good girl."
For me this was possibly one of the saddest things someone had said to me all year. They judged me on my surname, automatically seeing my name as my religion and my faith. They decided not to like me because of my name, and after chatting with me, and deciding I was okay. They tried to give me a badge of honour, by saying the ever so patronising, 'your a good girl.' It took all my strength not to slap that man across the face, for his sectarian comment.
As a child growing up in a country that was shrouded in an astmosphere of fear, and hate, judgement and killing, sectarianism and bombs, there was a lot of darkness, and people were judged on everything from how close their eyebrows were together, to their names, to the football shirts or school uniforms they wear.
Whilst there isn't the horror of the daily bombings happening at the moment, thank the Lord, and we live with something called peace, there is a darkness in this country, where people are still judged and hated for all the things that I have just mentioned. People are still judged because of their religion or preceived religion, and it makes me sad, and angry. To all of those who still chose to say stuck in a mindset of sectarianism, I say, in the words of John and Yoko - GIVE PEACE A CHANCE - stop judging people on their names, on how they look etc etc etc.
My sister Naomi, had gone on an exchange programme to Arizona for most of July. How I missed her. There were tears at the airport when I picked her up. She brought the beautiful Lara Ford back with her to Ireland, and we had a wonderful time getting to know her, learning about her culture and religion (she is a Mormon), discovering a language that joins us, and also divides us. It was simply fantastic to learn about the USA from her, and to spent time just hanging out. She is a wonderful girl, who we were blessed to get to know, and I can't wait to see her again.
Naomi & Lara share the same birthday. I made them some really special cakes. One a Red Velvet and the other an Irish Version of a Boston Mud Pie. Here are some pics of them with their cakes and hanging out in Ireland.
Naomi & Lara with their cakes
Tyler & the girls on their birthday
Naomi & Lara on their way to Ballygally Castle for a wedding
Naomi & Lara at the Armoy Road Races
Upside down at Barry's in Portrush
The girls in Ballycastle
The Girls & a Bog Body
The Girls in Irish Tweed Caps
The Girls at Newgrange
Visiting The Megalithic Passage Tombs of Newgrange & Knowth, was a highlight of my year. I have wanted to visit these sites since I drove up and down past them on my weekly commute to Dublin. It was very special to visit sites that are older than the pyramids at Giza, and Stonehenge. What absolutely amazed Naomi, Lara and I, was when the guide told us, that the stone paintings, shared similar symbols to those found in Native American stone art in the USA. That representations of the circular symbols seen in the picture between the girls above, was found in an almost exact replica in America. These ancient peoples who didn't have our means of travel or connection, still were in tune with each other. Now that really blows my mind.
A quiet peace blew on the wind, the day we were there. When we went inside the passage tomb, and saw the recreation of the Winter Solistice beam of light, I felt goosebumps. The ancient Irish people who built and used these tools were more sophisticated that we will ever know, and to stand where they stood, knowing so little about them, except what archaeology can show us was thrilling. My mind went into overdrive, imaging them planning these sites. Did they follow a process of creation in their mind, like I do, when I start to write or photograph? How did they see in their heads before they begin to work? Here are some of the photographs that I took.
Check out the ancient face to the right on the stone
Just before the tears at the airport, and that sense of someone being missing in our home when Lara left - Naomi, Sarah, Linda & I hung out - on a Saturday that was full of laughter and ice cream.
My friend Helga signed me up for a sailing course at Ballyholme Yacht Club in August, which reignited my love for the water. I had always wanted to do a sailing course, and lots of things stopped me - money, time, not knowing the right people - but now I am the proud holder of RYA Dinghy Sailing Levels 1 & 2, and I can't wait to get back on the water to take part in more courses, and become a qualified sailor.
This course taught me about stepping out of my comfort zone, and taking part in something that I have always wanted to do. Yes, I capsized, yes I lost my balance, yes the sea was cold, yes the boat felt to small for my 6" height. But none of that really seemed to matter, I was doing something that I had always wanted to do, and the feeling that that brought was nothing short of marvellous. In a small way it was the beginning of living my dream to become an ocean sailor, a member of crew who knows their way about a yacht, and sails across the world.
Something really dark also happened this month, something that still has the power to send shivers of horror down my spine. At a house party, I got chatting to a guy who had just returned from his gap year. We were sitting on large cushions on the floor with a group of people. This guy was about to start work in some highflying financial style career, I can't remember his name, but I was enjoying talking to him. We were interupted by the guy's sister who said,
"Nicky, I have something to tell you, now don't judge me, but we are in a safe environment, and my little brother is here. I don't want anything to happen to him, when he starts work in the big city, and you and I both know what the party scene can be like. So I have decided that in this safe house party environment I am going to introduce my brother to cocaine. Then at least I can be rest assured that he isn't trying it somewhere dangerous. He will have had his first trip with me, it's like a bonding and safe fun thing to do together. At least I know he won't try it first on his own, in a dangerous situation."
My eyes went from her to her brother, in a look of complete shock, I couldn't quite believe, what I was hearing, what was being said to me.
'Your not seriously, about to do this?" I said.
"Don't judge me Nicky, this is okay, I am looking out for my baby brother, and making sure he is safe."
The next moment this wave of darkness seemed to overtake the room, a heavy swirl of forbordance. To my right the guy was gabbling away in my ear, and telling me it was all fine. I looked to my left, and his sister was cutting the coke.
I stood up. I refused to be party to this.
'Guys, this is not okay, I am not judging you, but this is not okay, this is not safe. You have no idea where that gear came from, you don't know your dealer. This is not okay." My mind was racing, I had to get out of that room.
Looking at the brother, I said, "If you go a head with this, it will be the most foolish thing you have ever done."
"Guys, this is your life, your choice, no one can make it to you, but I won't be party to you taking this gear, I make the choice not to be a part of your choices. so I am leaving."
And, with that I walked out. It has taken me months to even be able to write this down, and when I think about it, I tremble with anger. If people want to take drugs, that is their decision, it is a free world, and if asked my opinion I would give it, but we each are responsible for the choices that we make, and we cannot make someone do something they don't want to do. But to introduce your brother to drugs, and not just a cigarette or a glass of booze, but hard class A drugs. That is just opening the door to death.
I turned away. Sometimes we do have to make the decision to turn away, it's not a judgement on what others are doing, or saying, but it's a choice we make to protect ourselves, because what is happening around us is 'not okay!".
What did you turn away from in 2011?
To be continued
That's it for now...
Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable