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!


It had been gray and raining for days, so sunshine on Monday was a welcome sight. Rather than wait and walk later in the evening, after dark (as you will know from last week’s post is my latest habit), I was determined to get outside and walking while the sun was still shining. I took off in the slightly sketchier direction – the one I wouldn’t head in if it were dark and I was by myself – so cheerful there was an actual bounce in my step.

The neighborhood was alive with people: a couple of punk teens with bad-ass hair on banged-up mountain bikes, a young mother trying to wrangle three toddlers out of a leaf pile and into the house, two girls walking slowly down the sidewalk in stocking feet. About two blocks from home, I noticed side-by-side yards. One yard had been meticulously raked of leaves, while the yard next to it was a matted carpet of orange and yellow. The boundary between the two lawns was clearly, meticulously, demarcated.

As I approached, I noticed an older woman raking in the side yard of the well-manicured lawn. She looked at me and broke into a lovely grin.

“Beautiful evening for a walk,” she said.

“Sure is. Looks like you’ve had quite the job keeping up with those leaves,” I replied.

“Right! There’s another rake if you want to join me,” the woman said with a mischievous smile. (I believe her eyes literally twinkled as she said it.)

We both laughed, and I continued on my genuinely merry way. About a block later, I stopped to photograph some graffiti which ordered me to:

but rather than consider the definition of art, as directed, I found myself contemplating an entirely different question. Why didn’t I take the proffered rake and help that woman finish cleaning up her yard? 

In the moment of our brief conversation, I had assumed that the woman and I were engaging in noncommittal stranger interaction. Just a friendly passing of a few congenial seconds. It had not occurred to me to take her seriously and join her at her labor. But as soon as the question came to my mind, I knew I had blown an opportunity. I had declined an invitation.

Lately, I have complained about being at a…pause point…in my life. Near the end of one road but not yet able to set foot on the next. I have been chafing at this, contemplating ways that I can experience forward movement or at least some kind of engagement in the NOW, so I don’t revert to old (nearly lifelong) habits of living in and for the future. I know from bitter experience that when I exist in a future context, I have a tendency to allow inertia to lull me into inaction. Suddenly, I have lost focus and months have passed without movement in any direction (except, perhaps, upward on my bathroom scales).

I have been contemplating different tactics, from purposely stepping outside my comfort zone in some way (um, do I really want to hang out at the biker bar by myself and see how that goes?) to setting up some kind of social experiment (eat for a week on the same amount of money a food stamp recipient receives) to see how resourceful and creative I can be as well as to understand how difficult it might be to live within externally-set limits. Don’t get me wrong, these kinds of activities are not necessarily bad. However, for me right now these ideas are inauthentic. Contrived. Right now, I need grounded and authentic.

In Hymns to an Unknown God, Sam Keen says, “Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, casual blessings, and teachers who unknowingly speak to your condition.” In other words, expect invitations to enter into the lives of others, to engage with yourself and those around you in different ways. Invitations to journey in new directions and to try new things.

I believe these invitations (opportunities, clandestine messages) occur in each of our lives on a daily basis. But I also know I am often so caught up in my own scripts, my own daily agendas, that I easily miss them. I don’t realize something important or meaningful has just been offered. What if I had accepted the invitation to rake with that woman? At the very least, I would have taken a little time out of my day to help a neighbor. At the very most…well, who can say what might have been created in that space?! Either way, I would have been richer for it.

Sometimes, these invitations lead to life-changing encounters. The kind of encounters (with others or with ourselves) that give us pause, offer us insight, allow us to connect the dots from where we are to where we want/need to go. As Gregg Levoy says in Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, “In whatever form these signal events come to us, they seem to indicate…a way in which events on the outside and the inside work together and match each other. The event and our state of mind become like the two eyepieces of a binocular microscope, they are both looking at the same subject, the same truth.” When this happens, the invitation extended to us is, in fact, a call to become our most authentic selves.

I am grateful for the reminder that I need to be on the lookout for these invitations, these messages intended for me personally. Though they might show up at odd or unexpected moments, it is vital to keep the following in mind : once I’ve received the invitation, the whole point is to accept it. To show up at the party (or conversation, lecture, volunteer site, relationship) – without attachment to preconceived outcomes – and see what there is to learn or to give.

Florentine Hash Skillet

The recipe for Florentine Hash Skillet was found in an article (in Eating Well magazine) on healthy, fast breakfasts, and is a rarity I couldn’t pass up:  a recipe for one serving!  Of course, I also couldn’t pass it up since it has just 226 calories and is a good source of vitamin A, folate, calcium and iron. Oh, AND it takes about 10 minutes to make, start to finish!

As usual, I deviated slightly from the original recipe.  First, I had fresh spinach so I used that rather than frozen (I cooked the potatoes a little by themselves since fresh spinach didn’t need the same time in the skillet that frozen would have required).  Also, as you can see from my photo, I added some additional vegetables to the recipe.  I had sliced mushrooms, diced red peppers, seeded grape tomatoes and sliced black olives (left over from homemade pizzas with friends the night before).

I don’t use any kind of rating system, but rest assured, all recipes I post have been delicious enough to be deemed “blog worthy”.  This one is no exception!

(Full recipe can be found on the recipe tab, above)