Top 10 Reasons Why Longtime Friends Rock

I took a happy trip down Memory Lane today with my treasured, lifelong friends, Sheri and Karen. When I got home from our lunch, I raided my Memory Box and found the collection of supportive and encouraging notes that they sent to me through the years. I also found pictures, some flattering, some not so much. After all, our friendship predates junior high, and some of those years were not pretty. After poring over the artifacts of our friendship, I came up with the following:

Top 10 Reasons Why Longtime Friends Rock

1. Longtime friends have pictures of you before braces straightened your teeth and they do not post them online.

2. Longtime friends have pictures of you when you were a size 6 and still only had one chin, and occasionally they do post these online. (Sometimes TBT is a good thing.)

3. Longtime friends know that “longtime” is a euphemism for “old,” but somehow, being with them makes you feel younger.

4. Longtime friends listen to you vent about all of your first world problems and don’t judge (in fact, they love you even more!) when you admit that sometimes life in general, and mothering in particular, can be hard going.

5. Longtime friends find a good balance between encouraging you to “go for it” and telling you like it is.

6. Longtime friends thought you looked pretty good in your turtleneck with the tiny hearts, the Sweats bi Ebe, the Barracuda jacket, and the Nike sneakers with the rainbow shoelaces. They also thought you looked beautiful in your wedding gown with the puffy sleeves, and they think you still look pretty good today. Of course, that’s because they all need new glasses.

7. Longtime friends have parents and siblings who are like your own parents and siblings, and over the years, you get to share in the trials and triumphs of one beautiful, extended family.

8. Longtime friends know why some things, like weird sayings that no one else understands (Wanna buy a duck?), are funny, and why other things (that shall remain nameless) are NOT FUNNY AT ALL.

9. Longtime friends make the effort to know you and to love you for all of your life, even when you have the flu, can’t get away from work, have a sick child, or – insert-your-own-personal-emergency-here – and can’t get together. They don’t worry. They will make sure you see them again soon. That’s how they roll. And that’s why you love them.

10. Like Bridget Jones’s friends, longtime friends know you can’t cook, but they like you anyway, just the way you are.

Sheri and Karen card frontSheri and Karen inside card

The “SSO” Story: An Annual Retelling

June 2014 067This is a story about my mom and the day she first became a grandmother.

I was in the hospital having my first child and apparently my own mom was very nervous about this, so she called the hospital to check on me.

One of the things that happens when you’re very nervous, I guess, is that you forget things, like your daughter’s married name, so my mom was delighted with herself that she remembered to ask for me by my correct last name.

(Don’t be too impressed, apparently she had called in a few times already and gotten nowhere because she asked for me by my maiden name.)

Okay, first obstacle overcome. Here’s where it got tricky. The nurse was NOT going to give out information that easily. No, my mom was going to have to work for it.

“Are you SSO?” the nurse asked.

My mom started to sweat. What is an SSO? She was quite willing to lie and identify herself as an SSO if that meant she could have information about me. But what if being an SSO was a bad thing and got her kicked off the phone with no information at all?

Oh, she agonized about the right thing to do.

Finally, she decided honesty is the best policy, and she admitted, “I don’t know what an SSO is.”

The nurse on the other end of the phone was probably very pleasant, but she sounds more and more like Lily Tomlin as the nasal telephone operator every time I tell this story.

“I am spelling your daughter’s name, Ma’am,” she said.

Relieved, my mom confirmed, R-U-S-S-O is, indeed, the correct way to spell my last name.


Kristin and Elsie June 1993

The baby is now a college graduate. She’s spending her birthday in Italy this year, touring art galleries and eating gelato and doing all the things I had hoped for her on the day she and I first met.




My mom is now grandmother to fourteen Mom and Elsiegrandchildren, and she knows how to spell all of their last names.

Blog Three, or, the blog post in which my mothering instincts are called into question

Blog Post Three: Wherein I am relieved that it was my own son who slipped and fell onto the treacherous rocks below…

Please fast forward a decade from Triumphant Blog Post Number Two. It is now the late 2000s, and publishing has been digitized, making my job as a travel and recreation writer much easier than I ever dreamed possible back when I was Barbara Hanson.

It was a few summers ago, and my assignment was to find and write about inexpensive places for families to share summer adventures. Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, Mass. is just such a place because it is, well, free.

My opening line to the story that was ultimately published in the Valley Breeze goes like this: “With a name like Purgatory Chasm, this place sounds like the perfect spot to send naughty children who are badly in need of a time out. But be forewarned, your children will love it here.”

And if you asked my son, Ben, if this is true, he would say yes, but with a caveat. It’s no fun at all when you fall off the chasm’s rocky wall and land on your back on a sharp-edged boulder and all your mother can do is exclaim, “Oh, thank God!”


Let me explain. My nephew, Jimmy, was visiting us for the week. Many of you moms out there are already nodding your heads in knowing recognition. In other words, I was in charge of someone else’s child, and I had to return him in one piece, or at least in as good a shape as he was sent to me.

At age 10, Jimmy and Ben were about the same size and wearing similar outfits as they scrambled about on the rocky slopes, climbing on enormous tree roots, hiding in small caves, searching for toads and salamanders, and following trails that led to rock formations with names like Corn Crib, the Coffin, the Pulpit, Lovers’ Leap, and Fat Man’s Misery.

They were having a wonderful time in that raucous way that only preteen boys can, and I relished their delight.

But when I saw one boy slip and fall and land on his back, my heart stopped and all of a sudden everything started to move in slow motion.

Purgatory Chasm is thought to have been created by the sudden release of dammed, melted glacial water near the end of the last Ice Age, about 14,000 years ago. If anything had happened to Jimmy, my brother’s child who was entrusted to my care, it would take at least until the next Ice Age for me to forgive myself.

The victim rolled off the boulder that broke his fall and groaned a little. “Ouch,” he said. I lifted the back of the boy’s shirt to examine the bruising and that’s when I saw it, Ben’s telltale freckle. This boy was my own.

All I could think was, “Thank God, you’re not Jimmy.” I was so relieved I must have said it out loud, because Ben looked at me quizzically, as if to say, “What kind of mother are you?”

I guess I’m an okay mom, but I’m a much better auntie, because Jimmy went home with nary a scratch on him, and very much looking forward to returning to Purgatory Chasm the next summer. Ben, not so much.

My First Writing Job: The Day I Became Barbara Hanson

Elsie, 3, Nick, 1, and me in 1997.
Elsie, 3, Nick, 1, and me in 1997.

As most wonderful things do, my writing career started with naptime. Not for me, but for my two (out of an eventual three) children, it was afternoon stay-in-your-room-even-if-you-can’t-sleep time, so I had a brief moment to take a deep breath and look at the newspaper. I can’t remember any of the news stories that day, but I do remember seeing Barbara Hanson’s byline all over the place. I remember I was jealous. I wanted to be Barbara Hanson. I wanted my byline in the paper. I wanted to see my name in print. I wanted to do something fun and important, you know, aside from caring for my baby humans and teaching them to walk and talk.

I called the Suburban desk editor to ask for a job. I had no portfolio, no tear sheets, only a B.A. in English and an article I had once written about running a day care to recommend me, but I would not be deterred. Jealousy has always been one of my prime motivators.

I called at just the right time. The newspaper had just been sold and, unhappy with new management, many of the reporters were leaving. Would I do a trial assignment? Sure, I would.

Barbara Hanson was taking the weekend off, and they needed someone to cover the town’s Memorial Day parade. Cover a parade? Are you kidding me? I could cover a parade with my eyes closed. Filled with bravado, and with my parents accompanying me so they could watch the kids while I did my job, we headed over to the festivities.

Once I got there, I realized I had neglected to ask my editor one crucial question: how do you cover a parade? Indeed, how do you “cover” anything?

My parents took the kids away and I just stared at the sea of people dressed in patriotic colors, waving flags and eating snow cones, and I wondered, how I would make sense of it all? How would I find out what was going on and who was doing what and how I would turn it into a story? What was the narrative here?

I decided to start at the finish. A special box with comfortable seats for dignitaries and special guests was placed at the finish line. I went there and found a determined-looking woman dressed in a wrinkled top and cargo shorts with pens and notebooks sticking out of every pocket. Her outfit’s color scheme was decidedly unpatriotic. She was asking important people important questions. I could tell she was a reporter, and she clearly knew what she was doing. I followed her. She noticed.

“Are you here from the Enterprise?” she asked.

I nodded.

“I’m with the Patriot Ledger,” she said, and shook my hand. She looked me up and down. I was dressed in red, white, and blue. I had no pockets.

Her eyes took on a pitying look. “Come with me,” she said.

She gave me a program that listed everything an important person planned to say and do. The program listed all the floats in order by appearance with sponsor names spelled correctly. She let me watch her interview a handful of bystanders so that I could find my own bystanders to interview and to quote. Then, she was done. She wished me luck. I wanted to hug her, but she didn’t really seem the type who would appreciate that, so we shook hands again and she took off.

I interviewed a few bystanders. I asked my father to find out how to spell the name of a priest I had interviewed and planned to quote, but whose name I had neglected to ask. (I was too exhausted from pretending to know what I was doing, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do one more difficult thing. Thanks, Papa.) I went home and wrote my story and made my afternoon deadline.

The next day, I rushed to open the paper to see my story and my byline in print.

And there it was: a brilliantly composed review of the town’s Memorial Day festivities by, who else? Barbara Hanson.

Remember, this was in the days before digital publishing.

“We weren’t going to make you a byline template if we weren’t going to keep you,” my editor explained, and so my first story was attributed to the regular beat reporter, the woman I wanted to be, Barbara Hanson. I got my wish.

My own byline showed up the next week and appeared with hundreds of local news stories that followed. I don’t have them anymore. The tear sheets were lost in a basement flood, but that’s a story for another day. Perhaps my third blog?

After all, I am a blogger now.

The Elusive First Blog Post

     For me, creating a blog has been an elusive beast.

     It’s something I’d meant to do years ago, but instead I raised children, finished graduate school, adopted rescue dogs, worked fulltime, then part time, then fulltime, and now part time again. I planted a garden, rearranged furniture, threw birthday and graduation parties, played Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, went out to dinner, walked in the woods and on the beach, travelled, wrote, read, and even did the dishes and the laundry now and then.

     All along, when something weird or amazing would happen, like I’d be tapped by a ghost at a haunted old theater, or my daughter would touch Hadrian’s Wall and understand for the first time how big and how small the world actually is, or my dog would say, “Thank you,” in English, I would think, “That’s funny. Wouldn’t that make a great blog post?”

     So now, going forward, whenever anything amazing or weird happens, I can share it here, and I hope your weird and amazing stories will echo back to me.