The Christmas Letter

Ah, the annual Christmas letter, subject of so much derision.  I actually started sending one 12 years ago, ignoring the negative press.   I reasoned that  if I loved getting them from people, it was okay to send one, too. Since then, I’ve received a lot of positive comments, and people who get them one year and not the next (I usually don’t send them to folks we’ve seen through the year and who generally know what is up with us) often ask where theirs is.  So I persist. (But then, I also sometimes make Christmas fruitcake, so I may be the ultimate Christmas contrarian.  Or Cliche.  Or contrarian cliche.  Anywho…)


The rap on the Christmas letter is generally two-fold.  One is its impersonal nature, which I have to admit does give me pause–though in the age of the word-processing, it seems just a little crazy to write the same thing over and over. The other is its relentlessly positive spin. (Though we do have one friend who writes a consistently noirish Christmas letter, which is hilarious and just a tiny bit creepy.) Anyway, some really sad things did happen this year, including the passing of our family friend, Michelle Wilson, which was hard for all of us, and particularly so for Kate.  Bill and I both endured predictable business challenges.  Kate and I wrestled with transitions.  But hey.  That’s life.  And if our stories define us, then there are worse things to do than look back at the end of year at all the good things that have happened.


And so, without further pre-amble, here is this year’s entry.


December 5, 2006

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Holidays.  Here in the Northeast, it’s been a little difficult getting into the spirit, since we haven’t even had to wear our winter coats yet.  (And yes, we do realize how annoying that statement must be to family and friends in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.) None-the-less, we are baking cookies, putting up decorations and generally carrying on, because we know the days are flying by and the holidays will be upon us, even if the temperature outside indicates otherwise.

We have had an eventful year, indeed.  Kate returned from Australia last December as a very happy Christmas surprise for her Mom.  She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in English in May.  Now she is living in Soho and working five minutes away from her apartment at a small marketing firm called Creativ & Company.  In typical Kate fashion, she went to New York on a Tuesday, interviewed for the job she would get on Wednesday, found a friend of a friend to room with on Friday and an apartment on Saturday.  Of course, her apartment is the size of a dinner plate (you literally have to back into the WC, because there is no room, um, to turn around in there), but she is loving every minute of her New York adventure.

Rob is also still in New York, living in a really great brownstone in the Sunset Park area in Brooklyn and working as the production manager at Leaders magazine, a publication so exclusive you don’t subscribe, you have to apply.  This job represents a huge step up in responsibility for him and he is daily wrestling with software and design challenges, but is enjoying himself along the way. The most hilarious part for his family is that he has to wear a suit and tie to work everyday.  Quite a change from the look he was sporting when he came off the Appalachian Trail last year!  He and long-time girlfriend Sunny Basham are really taking advantage of being in the city, visiting landmarks and museums, trying different restaurants, and even volunteering at the Park Slope co-op.

Bill is, as you might imagine, very happy with the mid-term election results, particularly because software from his company, Sage Systems, powered successful grassroots campaigns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts and several other states.  He was working 24/7 right up through Election Day, and I can’t say much has changed since. But I do know how things are with a start-up at this stage (and yes, it does feel like some sort of cosmic payback).

As for me, we completed the sale of WebCT to Blackboard, Inc. in February and I stayed on for six months of “transition” until the end of August.  Since then, I have been mostly goofing around, writing, cleaning out closets and generally whittling away at the list of things I was going to do when “I had the time.”  In November, my short story, “Winter Rental,” was published in Seasmoke, an anthology of short stories by New England writers. It is amazing to me that I started this Christmas letter when I was on a break between Information Mapping and WebCT twelve years ago.  Now here I am again, and still no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

The extended family is well. Rip and Ann’s son Hume graduated from George Washington University in May (same weekend as Kate) with a degree in civil engineering.  He is living in northern Virginia and working in a prestigious management training program.  Like me, Ann is on a work hiatus, which led Bill to point out that though the young graduates are getting jobs, the older generation seems to be giving them up, proportionately—a bit of a zero sum game.

Our house in Somerville is finally done—or as “done” as anyone else’s house.  This year we completed the landscaping, so we are quite settled in, tucked up for the winter and wondering what the future will bring.

We hope this letter finds you all well and you have a wonderful holiday season. We close once again with hopes for peace.

Bill & Barb

IT Support

The biggest challenge of working at home (or even not working, at home) is the IT support is just terrible.  Oh how I miss the days when, at the slightest mention of an issue or frustration, IT guys would come running down the hall as if their hair were on fire.

The IT team at WebCT was incredibly patient and supportive.  We had a system. They pretended to believe what I was saying, nodded sagely, disappeared with my laptop, then reappeared shortly, and all was right with the world.  I often suspected that they just took the machine down to their offices and let it rest for awhile, but it didn’t matter.  It worked.

My current IT support doesn’t even come close.   Here are the five most common responses from my current IT person:

  1. “It never does that when I’m using it.”
  2. “Read the manual.”
  3. “Why are you wasting time reading the manual?”
  4. “Elvis in Bangalore said…”
  5. And the incredibly irritating, “What did you do to it?”

And I have to sleep with this guy just to get this cruddy level of service.

Compare that to the support I got at WebCT.  Once a full cup of tea I had carefully placed on the total opposite side of my desk miraculously leapt up of its own volition and poured its entire contents through the keyboard and into the bowels of my computer.  Just like a code blue in a hospital, guys came running from everywhere.  “You may not want to see this, ma’am,” they said, politely closing my office door.

Or the time I had to tell them I’d backed my car over my laptop.  (Okay, first I said my computer had crashed.  Then I admitted I had crashed into my computer.)  They didn’t ask why, or even how.  They just fixed it. And then they went out of their way to explain that it wasn’t the stupidest thing anyone at the company had ever done with a laptop. (My favorites were the guy who sent his laptop from China in a manila envelope.  Not even a padded envelope.  Just a note that said, “It’s broken.”  Well, it is now.  Or the contractor who checked his laptop with his luggage, because the company didn’t have a specific policy against it.  “We don’t have a policy against sending your computer to the dry-cleaner, either,” Bob Bean responded in his typical manner, “but you wouldn’t do that, would you? Or maybe you would…”)

So Bob, Jeff, Chuck, Diraj, Matt and Shahab, you are gone, but not forgotten.  Or I am gone, but you are not forgotten.  Or something.  And of course, Sarah, Kurt (x2) Max, (x2 or was it 3?)  Thank you for everything you did for me and for the company. 

By the way, could one of you come over and talk to my current guy?  He could really use a little help with his attitude.