Flashback Friday: Hallie Jane

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My funny, smart, and beautiful* niece Hallie Jane.

Once, on a road trip, Hallie was cracking jokes from the back seat that had her mom, Gwen, and me in stitches. I said, “Hallie, you are SO funny!”. Her reply, “I wish the kids at school thought so. They just think I’m weird.” We assured her that it would be just a matter of time before the other kids caught up to her sense of humor, that she was just a little ahead of them. Luckily, that turned out to be true, and high school has been a great time for her, particularly for her involvement in speech and debate. In January, she will be traveling to Europe (primarily Poland) to compete in an international war crimes mock trial event.

Hallie and I have had our own adventures – she’s a great kid to be with when lost in a strange city, or to search the East Mountains for a lost dog with. She can be flighty, a little ditzy, and a lot clumsy:  but don’t let that fool you – and don’t judge her by her spelling or grammar on Facebook – she’s a smart cookie and serious about doing well in school.

In a week, I’ll be enjoying my family in person, and not just through my photos and memories. I cannot wait to see what sets Hallie and I to giggling this year!

*Actually, these descriptors can be used for all my nieces – Myka, Rachel, Hallie, Atalie, Zoe, Nikki, Elsa, Emma and Ada! I am blessed, truly! My only regret is the hit-and-miss nature of my photo collection – I’d love to highlight them all in a flashback friday!

Flashback Friday: Who are these little people?

kids at gwens

This photo is a perfect picture of four little personalities! It was taken at my sister Gwen’s wedding in Santa Cruz, California in the early 1990s (sorry, Gwen, I don’t remember the year!). From left to right, the kids are: Ben Finnegan, Nate Stanley, Myka Hanson and Tim Finnegan. Ben and Tim are my nephews, and Myka is my niece. (Nate is the son of dear friends who lived in community with my brother’s family, so was an honorary nephew back then, though its been more than a decade since I last saw him.)

Ben, looking sure of himself and copping an attitude; Nate hanging back a little; Myka smiling sweet as can be; and Timmy looking every inch the scrawny kid with the colt legs – a distance runner in the making.

They’re all grown up now. I remember thinking, when they were young, that I needed to cherish that time because they would grow up and lose that specialness that nieces and nephews have in the eyes of their aunts. What was I thinking?! I needed to cherish the time, as adults do with children, because childhood is fleeting. Not because anything would be lost – in either their specialness or my love for them – as they became adults. In fact, they may be some of the best adults I know. Definitely some of the people I most enjoy being with.

Which brings me to the reason I picked this picture for today’s flashback. In a little more than two weeks, every member of my family will be in the same place at the same time – something that has never happened before (considering that I’ve yet to meet little Adeline Bell, Ben’s daughter)! I cannot believe this amazing Christmas gift – and I plan to be as present in every moment of our time together as possible! (And don’t worry – Rachel, Hallie, Atalie, Zoe, Emma and Ada – you’ll likely show up here soon, too!)

Flashback Friday: Homecoming Season

The past few weeks have been Homecoming season, at high schools and colleges in the area. My friend Mike and I visited both of our alma maters, Clarke and Loras, on their shared homecoming weekend recently, and my own campus celebrated Homecoming last week. While college homecomings can be fun, in my experience nothing tops Homecoming Season in high school!

The photo, above, is an entry in Loveland Hurst High’s annual Homecoming Parade class float contest. Each year, one classmate’s family loaned us the use of their barn for the two weeks leading up to Homecoming. We would design, then build on a flat-bed trailer, the wood and chicken-wire frame for our float. Then the mad dash to completely cover the float with tissue-paper “flowers” began. Many after-school hours were spent poking, fluffing, stapling. Sometimes only a handful of us showed up, other times it seemed like our whole class was there.

Astonishingly, some of these floats, created and built by high schoolers, actually had moving parts. They held together (mostly) on the miles-long trip from the build-site to the parade route. (That drive was so slow and nerve-wracking, as we worked to avoid any mishaps and prayed we would make it under any electrical wires and overpasses.) Once at the parade site, we cheered our own floats until we were hoarse, always convinced – even if our better selves whispered otherwise – that OUR FLOAT should win the contest.

I loved those crisp fall afternoons and evenings in the Richardson’s barn. Fingers often cold, never knowing which classmates would show. Having the opportunity to join together with people I didn’t normally spend time with in pursuit of a common goal – HOMECOMING DOMINATION! It, almost, didn’t matter to me that I never attended a homecoming dance. I worked on three-years’ worth of floats, and attended three homecoming parades and football games (it would have been four, but we moved from Ohio to Iowa before my senior year, so I missed that last one. The photo above is actually my class’ entry that year, sent by a friend who knew I was there in spirit.)

Its funny, but I don’t remember Homecoming being about alumni coming home. I do remember it being an annual time when, as an awkward teenager, I felt very much at home in my place, my high school. May we all experience that sense of Homecoming this fall!

Flashback Friday: Incipience

This old polaroid is a photo of two of my favorite women in the world. The dark haired one is my cousin Stephanie, while the blondie is my sister, Gwen. I have no idea when or why this photo was taken back in the late 1960s – but I do know why I am posting it today! I am heading up to Dubuque tonight to attend the opening of one of Steph’s shows, this one at the Carnegie-Stout Library (in the old rotunda). Steph is an accomplished artist, and her work is truly stunning, whether it is drawing, painting, or her trademark bead mosaics. (You can view here work here.) The piece, La Luna, is one of my favorites. (The entire surface of the piece is crafted from beads, each individual bead placed painstakingly, one at a time, into the piece.)

When we are children, we love the people in our lives regardless of their skills or talents, regardless of who they might become in the future. Steph has always been a part of my family, and I don’t remember spending any time in childhood thinking about the person she might become as an adult. As so often happens, our grown-up lives took us in different directions. I saw her occasionally, though I was always happy to spend time with her when those moments arose. Then one day I turned around and really looked – and discovered this amazing person. Loving Mom, great friend, gifted artist, beautiful human being. My cousin – and, I am happy to say, my dear friend.

Flashback Friday: Fall at Miniwanca

One of my favorite fall excursions took place in the late 1980s (88, 89 or even 1990) when my friend, Sue and I drove from Iowa to Michigan. There we met Chris (our friend from grad school) and Shawn (their friend from summers working at camp) at the American Youth Foundation’s Camp Miniwanca in Michigan. The camp, situated on sand dunes right on Lake Michigan, was breathtaking in its fall colors.

We spent the days sightseeing and tooling around the area in Shawn’s red jeep. It was perfect sweatshirt weather.

We spent the night on the beach – literally. Blankets, not sleeping bags, directly on the sand. It would be safe to say that not a lot of actual sleep happened. But there was just no way we could bring ourselves to leave the camp fire and the moon, lighting a path across the lake, to head indoors to spend the night on musty camp cots. Needless to say, the morning was a little rough.

The weekend was one of those moments in life that stands out as unlike anything else you’ve done. This particular group of four people was only ever together that one time. We were only ever at a deserted summer camp in fall that one time. As a trip, it wasn’t meaningful or important in the way some events are – your first trip overseas, or a family reunion to celebrate a 50th anniversary, for example. It was an idea that we all acted upon, unlike so many impulses in life. The times when you think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to…” then you just stay home. For whatever reason, this time we didn’t just stay home. And that decision to act rather than not act, was completely rewarded.

Flashback Friday: Celebrating A New School Year

Here in Iowa, school started in August. But as most communities and states have different calendars, I’ve been seeing “first day of school” posts on my social media feeds for weeks. Now that Labor Day 2012 is history, I think everyone is back at it (just as we are on my university campus).

This can only mean one thing: school pictures are about to happen all over the country!

When my friend Wendy’s oldest child had her first school picture taken, Wendy reported that she was very concerned. “I think I’m going to have her take it again. There’s a mark on her face, and that hair over there is out of place.” My reply, “I think it’s adorable!” was answered with Wendy’s concern that, “I don’t want her to be embarrassed by it when she’s older!”.

What?! Clearly, Wendy did not understand the purpose of grade school pictures – to capture the real child – bumps, scrapes, self-cut bangs and all! Embarrassed? My siblings and I love all of our school photos, especially the bad ones. They so readily capture the zeitgeist of childhood, when living in the moment meant a carefree approach to appearance. There is no place for perfectionism in childhood, nor is our “perfect” look what we celebrate when we think of childhood. So here’s to bad school pictures that capture the heart of childhood!

Flashback Friday: Year of the Canon

January 1, 2011, New Year’s Day. Perkins, Mason City, Iowa.
December 30, 2011. The Blue Strawberry, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Please take note of the dates listed in the photo captions, above.

These photos capture the fact that 2011 was the year I developed a love for photography.

On New Year’s Day, Mike and I met in Mason City (roughly halfway between our two cities of Minneapolis and Cedar Rapids). We met to exchange belated Christmas greetings and gifts, and to purchase my first “real” camera. We spent the morning comparison shopping between Best Buy, Target and WalMart. Mike knows cameras – he owns seven (at last count). He helped me narrow down the options and select a camera that really works for me: the Canon Powershot SX130 IS. Mike liked the camera I selected so well that he bought one too! In the photo, above, we were opening our cameras and playing with them for the first time. It was -35 degrees and icy that day, so we went to one of the few warm places we knew would be open – Perkins!

The second photo is a shot of my friend, Emily. While I have a number of friends who inspire me when it comes to photography, Emily and Mike are the only people I’ve had “photo dates” with. Almost exactly a year after purchasing my camera, Emily and I met on a bleak winter’s day to shoot street shots downtown. I love a number of the photos I shot that day – playing with the black and white function on my Canon – but this shot is so descriptive of Emily. If you knew her, you’d recognize her from this picture!

So here’s to photography, photo dates, and incredible people who share your passions in life!

Flashback Friday: RA Training


For me, two weeks of every August, since 1996, have been spent in Resident Assistant (RA) Training. The 2012-13 RA staff moves in and begins training on Sunday. As usual, I am not really ready for this marathon of teaching and togetherness. However, also as usual, I know that I will end the training period grateful for the opportunity to be part of the lives of such amazing young people. The photo above is of my very first RA staff in 1996, snapped just after their mandatory fire extinguisher training, with members of the CRFD. I remember each of these students – their trials and tribulations, the late night rounds we stumbled through, the laughter we shared. Just remembering humbles me with the awareness of how privileged I have been.