The year all our dreams came true
Three local women tell Karen Ireland of their incredible 2014, and why they're hoping the New Year will bring them even better things.
Downtown Radio presenter Caroline Fleck (42) is expecting this year to end on a real high with the birth of her daughter. She lives in Coleraine with her son Jack (16) and has a transatlantic relationship her partner Tom Fuller, a musician. Caroline says:
This year has been a real whirlwind with so many good things happening at once. I have been with my partner Tom for almost seven years now and very early on we talked about having a baby together. This year we decided to commit to that and we are very blessed to be expecting our daughter at the end of the year. Tom heads up the Tom Fuller Band and we got together after I interviewed him on the radio. We were both coming out of divorces so we wanted to be cautious; we were good friends for about a year before we became a couple.
We have a transatlantic relationship as Tom is based in Chicago, which means one of us has to make the journey every month. It sounds very glamorous and exciting, but it is not. It can be tough not being with each other every day. In fact, the stress of all the travel and the distance between us resulted in us breaking up a few years ago, but in the end we decided we loved each other too much and couldn't be apart. So we made a decision that for now this is the way our lives have to be and we will just have to overcome the obstacles to make it work. Tom has a lot of responsibilities in Chicago and I have all my family and my life here. My son, Jack, is just about to do his GCSEs so we are committed to life here for now, but the aim will be eventually to have our whole family in the same place and together all the time. The long-term plan is for me to move to Chicago when I am ready.
Obviously, our baby will be a bit of a jetsetter - as soon as she is big enough to travel I will start taking her over to Chicago. I want her to meet and get to know her grandma out there, as well as all her aunts and uncles and cousins in the States. It is important that Tom's family is a big part of her life, too. Initially, they will get to see her through technology, which is a wonderful thing.
Tom's band has just launched its fourth album, Freedom, and gone on tour so it has been an incredibly busy year ... and then we found out I was expecting!
Still, we were over the moon. The first person we told was my son Jack and as it's just been him and I living together for so long I was worried what he would say or how he would take the news, but he was delighted. He said he had been waiting his whole life to become a big brother. It was very emotional. Now our whole house is coming down with pink stuff, which is totally alien to us as I am not a girlie girl, and with just having Jack we have never had any of this kind of stuff.
As well as getting pregnant this year, I took on a new career challenge and became head of marketing for Randox Health. As a former nurse and a broadcaster/journalist, this is a dream job as I get to combine the two elements of my career in one role. It is extremely varied - one day I could be teaching a group of nurses and the next I could be setting up a photo shoot. I love the variety and the challenge of my new career. After the baby is born I will go back to broadcasting as well - it is in my blood and something I love and will never give up.
So, it has been a very busy and eventful 2014. I can't wait to get to the end of the year to meet my daughter but for now the best Christmas present I've received was Tom coming over on Christmas Eve and getting to spend Christmas together for the first time ever. The weather has thwarted us many years when one or other of us has been stuck in an airport on Christmas Eve. We will have a few days to make final preparations before all the excitement of the baby begins. I have to keep pinching myself to believe this is all real and happening to me.
Jenni Spice (46) lives in Dromore with her husband Chris and her two children, Kaitlin (14) and Oliver (11). She fulfilled her lifelong ambition by opening her own gift and craft shop, The Good Room, in the Co Down town earlier this year. She says:
This has been an amazing year. It has been very hard work, but I still can't believe how lucky I am to be doing what I do for a living. I get up in the mornings and I tell the family I am off to play shop, as it feels just like being a kid again and getting to play shop. It has been a dream of mine for a long time to open my own shop in my home town. It was important to me that the shop was in Dromore as I feel the town deserves investment and new blood. It is a great wee town with lots of people, but those people just get into their cars and go off somewhere else to shop. If nice contemporary shops open up in the town, there will be no need. In fact, three new shops, including mine, have opened up within the last few months. That fact alone is giving people a reason to come into the town and I'm delighted to report that I'm getting more and more local customers.
I spent quite a long time working in marketing. I had a great job and was very comfortable - I had good perks and a pension. But I found I was spending all my spare time thinking about crafts. I would make jewellery in the evenings and go along to craft fairs at the weekend, and I would meet so many people who were making fabulous crafts and other art pieces but they had no outlet for them.
My goal since I opened the shop in September has been to provide this talent in Northern Ireland with a proper outlet - there are some real gems out there if you do your research. I still use my days off to have a good look around at who is making what. I am always searching for quirky stuff, as well as more commercial lines which are my bread and butter.
I've realised a dream in doing this. I love shopping and looking for new treasures and meeting people and socialising with them and the shop allows me to do both.
Leaving my job, which could have been a job for life, was a huge leap of faith but it has been so worth it.
Of course, I'm very lucky as my family have been tremendously supportive, particularly my husband Chris. But then he sees how much I love what I'm doing now.
Balancing running your own business and family life has been a huge challenge - a typical day starts at 6.30am and might go on until 11pm, when I finish my research - so I'm grateful to my mum and dad, who have been on hand to help out.
I couldn't have done it when the children were younger but now they are older and that little bit more independent, everyone just chips in and helps out.
I am, however, much more conscious now about making time for the children and make sure I spend quality time with them on my days off.
I don't worry about the business. I just get on with it. I am having a ball and I am excited about the New Year. I plan to have a craft room at the back of the shop where local artists and craft people will be able to hold masterclasses. People will be able to come along and see how things are made and take something away for themselves. The future looks promising.
Dana Masters (32) is a musician and mum to Noor (3) and twins Moses and August (18 months). She lives in Lisburn with her husband Andrew and has had a very busy year juggling motherhood and her career. She says:
Simply having three children aged three and under has made this an amazing year. Looking after Noor, Moses and August has been an incredible experience. When the twins came along life just got crazy - and busy! But then my family is my priority and everything else has been a bonus.
The fact I'd some unexpected highs with my career made this year extra special - you really don't expect to get those breaks when you are a full-time mum.
But I am lucky in that as a musician I work nights, so my babies don't miss me as they are asleep. It means I get the best of both worlds, which I am incredibly grateful for.
I am also one of four leaders in Lagan Valley Vineyard, a church based in the city which is growing rapidly and on an amazing journey working right in the heart of the local community.
One of the highlights of 2014 was getting the opportunity to sing at the BBC Proms. It was wonderful. I have always watched the Proms and saw it as such a huge part of the music culture here since I moved over when I married my husband six years ago. I'm originally from Columbia, South Carolina.
When I met my husband and we became friends I knew how much he loved Ireland so when we started dating I knew that if it was going to go anywhere I had to be ready and willing to move to his home country as he always made it clear that would be where he would be heading back to.
I've been very fortunate that my music has been well received here. We even got to sing with Van Morrison this year, which was another huge career highlight. He heard the band play and liked what he heard so he wanted to play with us.
And I've also had the privilege of recording a live album. Called Basement Sessions, it was recorded in the basement of McHugh's Bar and I am very proud of it.
Overall, though, the Proms has to be the ultimate highlight; we got to share the stage with talent like Alfie Boe and the BBC Young Musician of the Year. It is certainly the biggest audience I've ever played to. I sung a couple of songs and sang during the Strictly Come Dancing piece. It was brilliant to be a part of something so special.
People have this idea that my life is crazily busy with my family. And, yes, it is, but I don't like to think of life as being busy, I prefer to think of life as full but wonderful.
I have tremendous support with the kids. My great friend, Yvette, will babysit at strange hours of the day and night to allow me to do what I do.
Andrew's family and our friends are also extremely supportive. And Andrew and I still manage to make time for each other - we still have date nights, as well as ringfencing a couple of nights each week when we just cuddle up on the sofa and spend time together after the kids have gone to bed.
I know I'm very fortunate and I feel truly blessed.