Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Emblem

The emblem above is a recreation of the famous political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin "Join, or Die". I chose this as my emblem because as you can see I use a dog (a symbol of loyalty) and split it up into fragments. Each fragment contains a part or theme that persists in myself: politics, travel, stability, family, love, friends, my Irish heritage. The quote beneath is from my favorite novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and is, in actuality, a promise to myself (and should be a mantra to all) to dedicate my life to always use my gift of reason to choose right over wrong, to never stop learning, to remain brave in trying times, and to maintain integrity through it all.

I wanted to show my mood which I project onto the world and, which can be a message that everyone can respect. I saw the "Join, or Die" poster hanging in my room and realized that was who I was. Just as those states were individually separate and each important to the process, together they were stronger and united. If any part were left behind, the whole would perish.

Monday, November 29, 2010

As long as the grass grows and the waters run...

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind...
-William Wordsworth 

This week I've been feeling nostalgic and I've been reminded of the innocence that has come and gone in a blink. I wish sometimes I could return to these carefree days but then I realize that everything I've written are things that can be recreated in the future. Even though I can't bring back these memories, the point was that they happened -that they gave me a foundation, which I am grateful for. Grass grows and dies with the seasons and then regrows on top of itself, forever building a new land that is both literally different than the previous year but seemingly the same. This is the true pattern in my life. The loved ones in my life come and they go, but with each new season, with each generation, the memories grow on top of themselves. Joseph Conrad said that "each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life." There are two things that always last in this world: the land and the memories we build on it. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


One thing that goes hand-in-hand with being Irish is being Roman Catholic. I come from a very religious family on both my mom and dad's side. All of my uncles and aunts were highly involved in the church growing up, many of them being alter boys and family friends to their priests. I have a cousin in seminary school studying to become a priest, an uncle who was in the Franciscan Brotherhood, and a great aunt (who my mom is named after) who was a Carmelite Nun (Mother Mary Seraphine) and is up for beatification as well. Needless to say, I grew up going to church, attending CCD classes, and completing all the sacraments.

One things that has bothered me throughout the years was blatant racism against Catholics. People are always talking about racism against black people, Jewish people, Muslims, etc. but never about Catholics. I have witnessed many times people mocking my religion to my face -especially, in regards to alter boys and molestation by priests. I'll never forget seeing something in the news about a kid who drew cartoons of Jesus on the cross in his school newspaper mocking Him by putting an Ipod in His ears or other awful things. I would like to see some public policy recognize this issue.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Red Hand of Ireland

"The Red Hand of Ulster's a paradox quite,
To Baronets 'tis said to belong;
If they use the left hand, they're sure to be right,
And to use the right hand would be wrong.
For the Province, a different custom applies,
And just the reverse is the rule;
If you use the right hand you'll be right, safe and wise,
If you use the left hand you're a fool."

My last name "Neary" originates from the the Gaelic "O'Naraigh" that from the North of Connaught Province and means "modest". My mom's maiden name "Crowley" comes from an old story of fighting the Vikings on their invasion of Ireland, thus giving us our name from our victories. Somewhere along the long history of my genealogy there also are "O'Neill's", according to my dad's side. The following is a story told to me by my uncles years back. It is a legend of my family.


According to the myth, The kingdom of Ulster was holding a competition for any Irishman to claim an island that had no rightful heir. The challenge was to join in a boat race and the first one to touch the land would be the winner. So, the many men and my great, great, great, great, great, great? grandfather took on the challenge and began to race. However, when my great*6 grandfather realized he was losing, he couldn't let this opportunity pass him. So he took out a knife, cut off his hand, and threw it onto the shore.


The red hand (shown in red probably due to it being covered in blood) has now become a symbol for all clans of Ulster in Ireland and is represents strong devotion to continuing Irish Gaelic culture.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Irish Community

 When it comes to community, it is more than just my local school systems or town or even historical figures that has impacted me significantly. As I've mentioned in my first post, my Irish heritage (my Irish community) has mad me who I am today and I feel it is that community which I was brought up in.

As I've stated previously, my family (especially my dad's side) have always filled family reunions with Irish music, food, and drinks and told Irish stories and stories of our Irish past. I have always felt it is important to know where you came from, because it shows a lot about where you are going.

Personally, my most direct descendants come from mainly three parts of Ireland -Kilkenny, Donegal, and Cork. I hope one day I can put my first stamp in my passport and visit this part of the world.

Any country that produces this can't be bad

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Washington's Crossing

This famous illustration is a semi-realistic depiction of what happened that Christmas night.

About 20 minutes from my house is the site where General George Washington and men of the Continental Army and militia crossed the Delaware River in 1776 and marched to Trenton, New Jersey.

Every year Washington State Park puts on a reenactment of Washington's fateful trip, including several historic sites in the area. See -Washington actually wasn't a winning general; his men struggled and lost a lot. They needed a victory during this time and morale was low. To top it off, the weather was extremely challenging. Many people don't know that they were actually going through a mini ice age; as you can see in the classic picture above, mini ice bergs filled the Delaware (It was probably all the global warming). Grave sites for Artillery Captain James Moore and many unknown soldiers of the American Revolution who died during the winter encampment of 1776-77 are also still in this area.

On a personal note, I have seen this site several times but my family never attended any of the reenactments but, supposedly, they attract a lot of tourists, local residents, and even press. I look back on this as such a important missed opportunity because it has only been recently that I became more interested in the Revolutionary War -especially the father of our country.

The reason for my growing obsession

Sunday, November 7, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

Growing up in a small country town in NJ has its benefits and setbacks. Though the area didn't have much to offer, my family lived in a beautiful area with farms, pastures, and lots of mini-mansions; however, if we wanted we could travel little over an hour to get to Philly or NYC.

I went to a K-8 elementary/middle school; we were the East Amwell Cougars. I was very lucky to have been brought up in this environment and it wasn't because they were known as a "blue-ribbon school" or because they had the newest, best technology. It was because the teachers were completely invested in their students and created such trusting, long-lasting relationships with each one of us. To this day, my family and I continue to keep in touch with several of them -even my first grade teacher! 

Leaving such a small school (a class of only 50) to such a large high school (a class of 750) was quite a shocker for me. Now, I know everyone says they hated their high school years, and I understand to an extent, but I actually had a decent time in high school. Though we had such a large number of kids, there didn't seem to be as many cliques as you would expect. I had friends from all colors of the spectrum; I'll never forget my dad's reaction when he came to pick me up and saw me talking with my friend Andres. (Andres had a foot-long mohawk.) The point was that diversity was accepted and even embraced in my high school. Really, the only issues that I struggled with during this time in my life was waking up, staying awake, and making my priority school over drinking and other vices.

I now live in St. Augustine, Florida and the significant change has made me appreciate the situation I grew up with. I go back and visit my hometown every once in a while; the last time I went was for my best friend Melissa's wedding -It is amazing how much things have changed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Relationship With Fist Pumping: Or A Lesson on Terrible Life Decisions

When I was in my senior year of high school, I would meet up with a group of my friends every Sunday and drive to Philly to go clubbing. The trip was an hour long and we would always go to Club Shampoo on Willow Street between 7th and 8th St. At 4am and after something like 5 hours of house music, we'd blast Baltimore Club Music out of the windows of Joey T's souped up Honda and go eat at the Great American Diner in Bucks County before returning to NJ to go straight to school for the day.

Let me stop here and explain something...I didn't know what a 'guido' was until I came to Clemson, but the boys we went with could probably be classified as them...They called themselves the "B-Boys" and they had ridiculous blowouts, fist-pumped, and wore Ed Hardy t-shirts...It's actually quite embarrassing admitting this went down in my Jersey life.

At the time, I felt pretty bad ass when my normally iron-fisted parents actually allowed me to go clubbing into the wee hours of the morning in a relatively dangerous part of Philly. Looking back on it, it's pretty shocking they let me out of the house at all with all the trouble I got myself into...

I'm pretty amazed looking back at the so-called fly ass club I thought I was going to -The place was a shit hole. They had a shampoo room where I remember one time dancing waist-high in foam and definitely feeling some chick's underwear on the ground...The couple next to me were not grinding. One time we went and Joey T's car got completely stripped in a matter of ten minutes being in the club by some guys who clearly should have been working for Nascar. I also have to admit to seeing some guy definitely having sex outside with a girl that was passed out between two yeah, that was probably a rape in progress...but that's beside the point.

Enough said.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that this rite of passage of mine was during a very happy time. I was completely carefree and excited about life. I loved listening to the classics like "Do It Girl, Put Your Leg Up" and "Watch Out For The Big Girl", or even losing my hearing for 30 minutes after leaving the club -oh, and of course eating monte cristos at 5am.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Splendor in the Grass

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind...
-William Wordsworth
The poem above is from William Wordsworth's 1807 "Ode, Imitations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood". He was a British romantic poet and I heard this poem in an old 1961 film called Splendor in the Grass starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. It is another great movie I watched as a kid and I feel it exemplifies where I am in life now. My story seems to be a story of a woman trying to return to her past, her innocence and struggling -knowing that she can't go back to what has already passed, but instead "find strength in what remains behind". I wish to take the experiences my parents laid down for me as a child and do the same for my kids. I want them to be exposed to musicals and old Hollywood and I want them to know about their Irish heritage and take them on day trips to make them feel special.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Interpreting Carousel and Gene Kelly in my Personal Life

As I previously stated, carousel has been a large influence in my life. When I was in Kindergarten I requested one day that all my teachers call me Julie instead of Kara and I refused to respond to anything else. Coincidentally, later in life, I got my wish when I chose the name Julia as my Confirmation name.
What does this time period and these movies say about the person I am today?

Although these Hollywood musicals represent a part of my youth, popular music and movies of the time also played a role. I was not sheltered from rock n roll and television; however, I believe I chose to include them in this mystory to influence any one who reads this to open their minds to something so original and something that remains a closed chapter of our nation's past. Today, I am not as interested in musical film because it doesn't have the nostalgic simplicity and innocence of the time. Movies like Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Moulin Rouge, Across the Universe mostly deal with the vices of life - jail, murder, prostitution, drugs...These movies were an escape from that, and also a wish for a returning to this simpler time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One More Ride on "Carousel"

Carousel is a beautiful love story between Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones) and Billy Bigelow (Gordon McCrae) filmed in 1956. This story is about Billy asking for permission to be sent down from his level of heaven (where he is in charge of shining the stars) for one day to try to make amends for the mistakes he made in life to his wife and friends and to see his child he never got to meet. Julie Jordan works in a local factory in town and meets bad boy Billy at a carousel where he is the barker. Eventually, Julie and him get married but Billy's bad habit leave him without a job and forced to live with Julie's cousin Nettie. When Julie tells Billy that she is pregnant, he feels he has to clean up his act but instead chooses crime to do this which ultimately gets him killed. His one day return is emotional, forgiving and heartbreaking and I've probably seen it 50+ times.

I remember snuggling up on the bed with my sister Sheila and watching this movie with her in her girly, pink room decorated with parasols. Even as a little girl I remember crying when Billy dies and even understanding the plot, though it was a bit morbid and unethical at times. I was always scared when it came to a very distinctly different ballet scene where the story was reenacted through dance.

This movie was very impressionable and watching it again made me realize a few things about the reality of the movie as well as personality traits in myself. Watching it later in life, and now, I realized the ballet scene was retelling the story in ballet form but was very odd and I can see why it upset me when I was young. The movie still makes me cry but I can understand more of the complexity of the plot. In the movie, Billy actually hits Julie but she still loves him and forgives him, though he can't forgive himself. This is the reason he is in heaven shining stars - it is punishment.

Singing one of my favorites, "You'll Never Walk Alone", after Billy dies
One of the few scenes where Billy breaks down his tough exterior for Julie
Now, although I do not understand how domestic abuse relates to my life, I can say that this type of bad boy persona is exactly the kind of men I know I will marry. I was brought up under a subconscious impression that showed men should not show their feelings - that it is a sign of weakness - and that this kind of difficult and non-outward love was the norm. I may not agree that this is how it should be but I can't deny that this is the kind of man I have been set up for...and my parent's relationship was quite similar. My mom would be all over my dad and my dad would coil in hilarious rebellion but, though my dad could not show his love outwardly my parent's relationship was stronger than oak. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

That's Entertainment

Let me start by saying one very important thing about Gene Kelly - No one could do what this man did. Fred Astaire was the original but if anyone came close to perfection, it was him...He could sing, dance, play piano, act, do it all in one take, AND he did it without looking feminine. Even watching it now leaves me in awe of his precision and actually frustrates me that many people my age and younger (even older) don't know about him or the era of American musical film.

The atmosphere of the time was definitely conveyed in the connotations of this film. Though the scene does not have much verbal communication to the audience, the dance communicates the implications of the time: the innocence, the masculinity conveyed through his athletic dance style (in a time where now most would not describe dancing to be masculine), the grace, the innovation. The great thing about film is that one scene from it can certainly say a thousand words -If the implications of this film were expressed in writing I feel like this scene could write hundreds of pages telling not only about the film or Gene Kelly or even the time period, but it could also tell of the value system instilled in me during my childhood.

I Got Rhythm

My Favorite Scene from Carousel, 1956
Though I wasn't opposed to watching the Disney movies the rest of the kindergartners were watching like Sleeping Beauty and Aladdin, my mom made it a point to consume most of my leisure time with the classic old Hollywood, usually post-WWII films -movies with stars like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Van Johnson, Natalie Wood, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, among others. I equally spent my time watching Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like Carousel (my favorite) and Oklahoma.

Gene Kelly in An American in Paris, 1951
I have felt privileged to have been exposed to such a polished, value-oriented time. However, a particular set of entertainers hold a special place in my heart -Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. I can remember spinning in the living room in my blue and black striped, cotton dress (worn probably three days out of every week for years) to their movies -from An American in Paris to Funny Face. In particular, a memory sticks out of watching Gene Kelly create a dance (Summer Stock, 1950) in complete bewilderment.

Gene Kelly in Summer Stock, 1950

After he has been left alone at the theater, Kelly whistles casually to center stage...He hears a creak in the floorboard...and the swoosh of a newspaper under his feet. He bends into the floor, he kicks up the paper, and Boom! - full song and dance...from a piece a paper and a creak in a floorboard. Incredible. I had never seen, even now, anyone with the talent he had. He used such a simple idea and turned it into a classic moment in entertainment. P.S. It was done all in one take. -Gene-ius.

Gene Kelly Summer Stock Dance

Monday, September 20, 2010

Daddy-Daughter Dates

This a story that comes to me in bits and pieces of particular images and feelings, yet most of the story was told to me by my mom and dad.

When I was a young girl, possibly 5 or 6, I would drive with my mom to Merrill Lynch (where my dad worked my whole life) and wait for my dad to come down and take me on a "daddy-daughter date".

Interestingly, I used to think this was the monogram for my family because ML was such a big part of our lives and our house was filled with assorted trinkets and office supplies with this logo on them.

I would wait outside of my car with my mom and we would look up at the tall glass building and be able to see my dad getting into the elevator and watch him come down, which was very magical to me for some reason.
Similar to the elevator on the building my dad would wave from
Merrill Lynch in Paramus, NJ

Despite my recollection of this, my dad would get into the driver's seat with me in the passenger's and I would make my mom sit in the back of the car and keep quiet. Because we were on a date, she had to remain silent and pretend she wasn't make it more authentic.

We would typically go to McDonald's where I would end up leaving "my date" for the ball pit most of the time. My dad would sit with my mom and read the newspaper until we had to head back to his work.

Then, we would drive back to say goodbye to my dad and watch him go back up in the magical glass elevator and wave to him in the window before he walked back into the office and out of sight.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Many weekends of my childhood were spent taking day trips to Bucks Country, Pennsylvania with my mom. Always set to a routine schedule, we would first go to Peddler's Village, then off to the SPCA to play with the animals, and, last but not least, visit "my house" (or at least the house I wish I owned).

Peddler's Village, Spring 2008

Peddler's Village, Spring 2008

I would sit in the back of her 1993 burgundy Oldsmobile Achieva on what seemed like always the most beautiful, crisp fall day and gaze in awe of the large bedrock mountains that would encapsulate the road and the miraculous view down the valley. There was so much color and vibrancy around me; I look back on it and realize these trips were the reason autumn is now my favorite season. 

Peddler's Village, Spring 2008

When we arrived at Peddler's Village, we would walk down the cobblestone sidewalks and trickle in and out of shops. We would spend most of our time in a unique gift shop, PastTimes, and I would always make my mom take me to Glitz and Glitter -a small store that sold costume jewelry and accessories.
My mom, sister, and I used to
go here all the time in Peddler's
After 'Peddlas' (as my mom and aunts would call it in their Brooklynite accents) we would drive a minute down the road so I could play with the pets at the SPCA. We were always compassionate towards the animals we knew were less likely to get adopted and I loved freeing the cats from their cages so they could play with one another.

Before our trip came to an end, my mom would make a quick stop at a gorgeous mini-mansion in the area. Located in a small development called County Cork, the monstrosity was Italian-style with a fountain in the center of the driveway (complete with a Rolls Royce) and a luxurious white stairway accented with pearl lamplight leading down to a terrace behind the house.

An embarrassing but telling video of my best friend, Melissa, and I traveling to see my dream house in PA
The view down the street from my house in NJ (facing the PA border), 2008

I get so nostalgic looking back on it today. It was a short trip from my home in New Jersey out to Lahaska, Pennsylvania, but I felt like each time we went was a special time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

'May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future.'

Someone once told me 'We are the same people we were at age six.' This is quite a statement to make considering the numerous changes in the years leading to adulthood...peer pressures, responsibilities, heartaches, freedoms, education, loss...

However, I have come to believe in recent years that this idea that the foundation that has been set for us does impact the path we choose to take in adulthood. 

Personally, my childhood experiences speak volumes of the person I am growing into today. Specifically, my most significant childhood memories revolve around the family reunions of my father's side -in particular, the birthday roasts, Irish singing, and political debating that went on through the night.  
Though it is difficult to decipher the several parties we had as they all seem to mesh together into one, let me set the scene for you as if it was a single night... 

A large, white tent canopy with hundreds of amber stringed lights stood between my immediate family, my dad's six brothers and sister, a dozen of my closest cousins and a perfectly star-filled summer night sky. Though the daytime festivities of eating and swimming equaled the fun for the rest of the kids, I was more excited about the nighttime when I got to sit and laugh at the incredible stories of my aunt's and uncles' childhood, usually in a prepared roast format in time for one of their milestone birthdays. 

Irish music would always follow -traditional ballads which included hilarious stories of their own -songs depicting times of humor, death, and a lot of whiskey.  

A staple ballad of these particular nights...
(and doubles as the name of my dog, Finnegan).
Then would ultimately come political discussion...let me rephrase that - blatant fighting over current events of the time...most of which mean nothing to us now. 

And I couldn't have been happier to be involved. 

I look back at that time in joy, admiration for their gift of storytelling, and in enormous gratitude for letting me into their world...where I learned about my beautiful Irish heritage, my ever-growing passion for politics, and the stories of struggle my parents endured but never passed on to my brother, sister, and me. 

I continue to appreciate the importance of this time in my life everyday. 

Neary Irish Hooley 2009