Summer Dog Days

The Summer Dog Days are not pretty. We’re talking dirty, matted hair, chipped pedicures, and the tendency to laze around all day eating cookies. And those are just the dogs.

The people are also in their summer plumage: sunburned, sore, and sporting chlorine-damaged split ends.

We’re all a mess. And not surprisingly, so is the house. It’s like the spring cleaning frenzy that hit hard in April and May never happened at all.

It’s no one’s fault, really. It’s just the way of things. Summer is for big projects, and this summer is no different. Joe and I built new garden beds and a fence in the front yard Garden bed and a pergola in the back. Next up is a greenhouse made from vintage windows – we laid the foundation for it last weekend.

Inside the house, Elsie and I repainted and remodeled her room, creating a dramatic change from beige walls with country furnishings to bright red walls and in a French classic style. All that’s left is to install the crown molding.

We’ve also had beach days and zoo days and baseball games Ben hittingand sleepovers with friends from out of town. Beth and Kristin(Hi, Beth!)

We’ve celebrated birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and the Fourth of July.

We’ve gardened within an inch of our lives, and are now feasting on peas, beans, radishes. Soon, we’ll have tomatoes and peppers.

And some of you may have heard about the potatoes. A potato harvest is excitement like no other.potatoesinbowl

But what happens when you focus on the big projects? The little things, the regular maintenance, the stuff that has to get done or YOU WILL GO CRAZY does not, in fact, get done at all.

This is why I am tripping over overflowing laundry baskets and piles of shoes. This is why every time I reach for a clean, dry towel, I have to go throw a load in the washer so that I will have a clean, dry towel approximately an hour and a half after I need one. This is why the refrigerator, despite undergoing a thorough detail during the frenzied spring cleaning about two months ago, is now piled high with Tupperware and takeout containers. I cannot open the freezer door without risking injury from falling frozen goods. The tragic irony? I can’t close the freezer door either. A purge is badly needed.

So sure, I may have painted a bedroom and a fence, but have I touched up the chipped kitchen cabinets? No. And I have no immediate plans to, either.

And yes, I may have cleaned and purged and neatly organized all the closets in May, but can I fold and put away my linens easily now? Not a chance.

This is what the Summer Dog Days are for: sticky, gritty kitchen floors, fingerprints on the cabinets, dog nose prints on the sliding glass doors, and sitting back and ignoring it all until you can stand it no longer. With any luck, everything be all right once the back-to-school, let’s-get-organized energy surge arrives. That should be in about a month.

Until then, enjoy the fleeting Dog Days of Summer.



Please, World, Take Care of my Daredevil

The middle one is 18 and headed to college next month. I’m not sure I can let him go. Not because I’m feeling all mothery and clingy (though, that’s an issue, too) but because of stories like this one, about David Legeno, the Harry Potter star who died while hiking in the desert.

Nick off the beaten path
He’s near the beaten path, but not on it. It’s always the road less travelled for Nick.

Why do people feel so drawn to explore dangerous places? Can’t you just watch a documentary about the desert from the comfort of your own living room? Nick certainly doesn’t think so. There is nothing he loves more than a spontaneous jaunt off the beaten path.

Nick is my daredevil. He wants to climb mountains and descend into caves and swim the ocean and then, maybe, sit down and have lunch before he sets out for an afternoon of skydiving and bull fighting. I’m forever saying things to him like, “Will there be a lifeguard on duty?” and, “No getting lost allowed,” and my personal favorite, “Try to keep from getting into a situation where you have to chew your own arm off.”

Once, on a trip to Vermont, Nick was patient while I took some notes for a travel story I had planned to write on the ECHO Lake and Aquarium Center in Burlington. I liked the place, not only because it showcased some unusual aquatic species, but also because it had a roof and four walls. It would have been tough going, indeed, to get lost or hurt in there.

The reward for Nick’s forbearance while I worked was a kayak trip out onto Lake Champlain. Once in his boat, he immediately headed for a small island out in the middle of the lake. To me, the island seemed a million miles away.

Nick paddled so fast, I couldn’t keep up. Soon, he was completely out of sight. He was 13, and I thought I’d never see him again. I had to call him on his cell phone to tell him to head back to shore. Digging my cell phone out of my bag while keeping my own kayak afloat was no fun, let me tell you.

So you’d think I’d have been prepared for a stop at Quechee Gorge on our way home. “Perhaps you boys would like to dip your feet in the water?” I asked Nick and his brother, but before I got all the words out, Nick had jumped in cannonball style and Ben was close behind.

Nick wants to throw himself into Quechee Gorge.
Nick prefers to swim in Quechee Gorge.


Nick and Ben in pool
But what is so wrong with swimming in your own backyard pool?

Now, Nick is headed off into the real world, and I may not always be there to call him on his cell phone and to tell him to: a. wear sunscreen, b. check for ticks, or c. avoid getting into a situation where he has to chew his own arm off.

Please World, take care of him, and send him home to me in one piece.

Ferocious Competition: A Fourth of July Tradition

Once a year, we rise early in the morning, head to the center of town, cover our faces with war paint, and engage in ferocious combat with our neighbors. If all goes well, we’ll finish the day soaking wet and reasonably successful at blowing the blueberries out of our noses.

Welcome to Scituate’s annual Fourth of July Old Home Days, an old fashioned holiday celebration that features games, a teddy bear decorating contest, hug-a-bunny, pony rides, face painting, crafts, pie eating contests, fire trucks and more.

Attending this celebration has been a tradition in our family since we moved to Scituate, RI in 2001. The first year, we didn’t know about the teddy bear decorating contest, but by the next year, we were ready. Our bears were outfitted in the best red, white, and blue doll-sized costumes that Wal-Mart had to offer. All three of my kids earned blue ribbons in their bear’s category. We would accept nothing less.

Bear contest

One year, I almost won the adult musical chairs competition, and I proudly sported the resulting bruises on my arms and legs. These were war wounds, and I was a warrior. I am fully aware that the term “almost won” means “lost,” but as my hyper competitive personality will not allow me to admit defeat, I’m just going to have to stick with “almost won.”

Adult musical chairs

My kids have entered (and even won a few) water balloon tosses, hula hoop contests, checkers tournaments, and limbo lines, but victory in the pie eating contest eludes us all. It’s possible that I may have influenced my children with my hyper competitive nature, because there was one year when I think Nick nearly choked on his blueberry pie rather than accept second place, but he did not perish in combat, and so that yellow ribbon is just as much a thing to celebrate as a blue ribbon would have been.

Ben pie eating contest

At the end of the festivities, the hot and sweaty combatants, I mean, community members, are usually free to frolic about in their bathing suits under a cool shower at the end of a fire hose, thanks to the North Scituate Fire Department, although tomorrow it may be Hurricane Arthur that cools everyone down.

Tomorrow’s festivities will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the grounds of the First Church and Community House. I hope to see you there, though maybe you shouldn’t challenge me to a game of checkers. Someone may get hurt.


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.