2011 Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We’re having an unseasonably warm December in New England, so even though nearly all our Christmas shopping is done, cookies are baked, and we put the decorations up a week early, it’s taken awhile to get into the swing of things. Then last night, we celebrated “Christmas Eve” with the Feast of the Seven Fishes and assembled multitudes of Caritos, and exchanged presents with Rob and Sunny, who will be in Colorado on the actual day. I think we are finally in the holiday spirit.

This has been a year of change and more change for our family.

Kate has led the way by leaving not just her job, but the country altogether. She’s now living in Kentish Town in London, studying for her Masters Degree in Creative Writing at London Metropolitan University and loving every minute of her geographic and academic adventure. Bill and I joke that by moving from Manhattan to London, Kate seems to be on a quest to live in the most expensive cities in the world. She responds to this by ignoring us, which is usually the wisest course of action.

Bill has also made big changes in his life. In February, he left his operational role at Sage Systems after eight years. Like me, he is now focused on writing, working on a political thriller among other projects. In October, I became a heroine to women with retired husbands everywhere, when I “suggested” that maybe he find somewhere to work other than our couch. (He claims he was annoying me by breathing. This is a slight exaggeration. He was annoying me by breathing in our living room during daylight hours. There’s a difference.) Anyway, he’s rented office space in a commercial building half a block from us and we are both happy and incredibly more productive.

Running counter to trend, after changing jobs and/or apartments, often multiple times, every year since college, Rob and Sunny enjoyed a year of relative stability. Sunny did accept a new job in her field in post-production sound at Tantor Media, a major producer of audio-books. Rob is still at work as a technical writer at Blackboard. Their little area of Connecticut was the absolute epicenter for the northeastern snowstorms last winter with 93 inches of snow. They also endured two week-long power outages after Hurricane Irene and our freak October snowstorm. Despite all this, they are planning to look for a house to purchase in the area in the new year.

I have stayed free all year from corporate entanglements (and of course, the curse of regular income). With my co-editor/co-publishers, we released the ninth annual Level Best Books anthology Best New England Crime Stories: 2012: Dead Calm in November. My story “In the Rip” appears in this collection. I’m putting the finishing touches on a second novel and blogging regularly with some amazing mystery writers at www.mainecrimewriters.com. All and all, my writing career has progressed this year to the point where I am now in a position to be rejected by a much better class of people than ever before.

On the Carito side of the family, John and Heather’s daughter Hilary graduated from Boston Latin in the spring and started at UMass Amherst in the fall. Today, we learned that Carl and Eliana’s son Breno became engaged to Rachel, his girlfriend of many years. On the Ross side, Rip and Ann’s daughter Julia graduated from Wellesley College in May and is now working as a research assistant in psychology at UC Davis.

Of course, not all of this year’s changes were good ones. In January we lost our cocker spaniel MacKenzie. In February, came the most devastating loss of all, my Dad. It made for a long, sad winter, but my mother has led the way by focusing on all the wonderful things she and Dad did in their lives together. Her example has been a source of great comfort for the rest of us.

We hope that 2012 brings you happiness and adventure and that we get to see you some time in the new year.

Bill & Barb

2010 Christmas Letter

Best wishes for the season to everyone!

Here in Somerville we are having an “almost” Christmas—meaning the shopping is “almost” done, the house is “almost” decorated, the menus are “almost” planned and, if you are reading this, it must mean the cards are “almost” done.

The Caritos have had a busy, busy year.

In June, Bill and I spent ten wonderful days in Paris.  We rented an apartment in the Marais, a style of travel we heartily endorse and intend to adopt whenever we spend more than a few days in one place.  We took day trips to Normandy and Versailles, multiple walking tours of the city, did lots of touristy stuff and even practiced the French art of sitting in cafes for hours at a time.

My big news is that in August, my mystery novel The Death of an Ambitious Woman, was published by Five Star/Gale/Cengage.  I am having an absolute ball with book signings and library talks.  I’ve been telling people it’s one of those few things in life that are every bit as much fun as you imagine they’ll be. In August, I also became a co-editor/co-publisher at Level Best Books, which produces an annual anthology of short stories.  Our first effort, Thin Ice: Crime Stories by New England Writers was released in November.  It contains my short story, “Key West” which is one of my favorites.  Finally, also in August, we sold Wimba, the company of which I was (all too briefly) Chief Operating Officer to Blackboard, Inc.  (Yes, the same people who bought my previous company, WebCT). So I am now “retired” and writing and editing full-time.  As I’ve said, “How many times can the universe send you the same message?”

In October, Rob and Sunny moved to Middletown, Connecticut, a great college town with fun restaurants and lots to do.  Rob is working as a technical writer at Blackboard and Sunny is still doing contract post-production sound editing for Audible.com as well as getting a Masters in Library Science and working part-time at a library.  They’ve added a third animal to their menagerie.  Joining cats Mehitabel and Monkey is Fiver, a German shepard-husky mix, now six months old.  Rob spent a high school summer training our cocker spaniel MacKenzie to sleep until noon.  Perhaps because of his grown-up responsibilities, he has not yet achieved the same success with Fiver.

Kate is still at O, The Oprah Magazine and loving living in Tribeca.  She took a creative writing course at NYU this fall.  Poor child, can’t shake the family curse.  Bill is still busy at Sage Systems.

For the first time in more than a decade we don’t have a wedding, high school or college graduation in the extended family to report. Niece Julia Ross lived with us over the summer while she did an internship at Children’s Hospital. We see a fair amount of Carl and Eliana’s daughter Christelle who is living downstairs in our two family house with Bill’s mom. We did get to spend a lovely Labor Day weekend in Boothbay Harbor with my brother Rip’s family and all of our kids.  We were lucky to squeeze it in because this fall, Rip’s wife Ann has become a co-founder and manager of a knitting store in Kingston, PA called Gosh Yarn It!

We hope you have happy, happy holidays and fantastic New Year.

Call us, e-mail us, Facebook us, text us or tweet us in the New Year!  More ways than you’d ever want to get in touch with us listed below!

Bill & Barb

Goodbye Wimba

Both the beginning and the end came head-spinningly fast. The middle seems like a dream—did I work in New York? Take the Acela every week? Have that great apartment? Did I really go to Orlando three times in the first six months of 2010? From the vantage point of life as I’m living it today, it’s hard to believe it was real.

Here’s what was real. At Wimba, Carol and I found a culture that cared deeply about its customers and its mission in education, a core team of managers and team members who worked hard and got their jobs done through thick and thin, and a market hungry for new and better ways to teach and learn. All Carol and I had to do was not mess that up.

We tried to add “Say What You’re Going to Do, Do What You Say” accountability to management, create a simple narrative about how we could help our customers and integrate exciting technology advances into our products. We didn’t get to finish, but it’s amazing how much was accomplished in such a short time.

My personal proudest moment at Wimba came in a conference room with an expansive view of Boston Harbor. I sat with the Blackboard due diligence team and, with no preparation, walked them through every single person on the Wimba org chart. For 100+ people, I knew every person’s current job, background before coming to Wimba, and what they were working on now.

So whether you are staying with Collaborate or moving on to other adventures, know that what you did at Wimba was known and deeply appreciated. I hope you will always be proud of your accomplishments.

I already miss my time and Wimba, and wish the best to all of you.


When My Parents Named Me Barbara Did They Know I’d Be a Brand?

Lately I’ve been learning about
brand-building and platforming
for authors
Makes perfect sense to me
because nothing gives more pleasure
than to close a perfect book
by an unfamiliar author
then run out to the bookstore
and find a dozen more

But I wonder, not just for me, but for all of us
In this brand-building, tweety, statusing world
What to do with the stuff that doesn’t fit the narrative?
What to make of my contradictory enthusiasms and concerns?
job in ed tech
scrapbooking hobby
patient husband
great kids
insane cocker spaniel
addictions to the Project Rungay blog,
Mad Men, So You Think You Can Dance?

It’s the perfect age for monomanics,
people with one consuming passion
who live and breath it everyday.

But what about us poor, unintegrated schmoes?

2009 Christmas Letter

Happy Holidays to Everyone!

I watched the lighting the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza
last night. It so reminded me of the Christmas weekends spent
in the city with my grandparents– seeing the department store
windows, skating on the rink here and going to the
Nutcracker or the Radio City Christmas show. Twinkling
lights and happy memories. Nothing better to put you in
the holiday mood.

Here’s the annual update—just in case we haven’t called, e-mailed, facebooked, texted or tweeted with you this year!

The big announcements in this Christmas letter are mine. My mystery, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, will be published by Five Star Press in August, 2010. (Don’t worry about forgetting this important fact. I’ll remind you—again and again—when it becomes available.) In other news, after consulting for nine months, I’ve taken a permanent gig as co-COO at Wimba, Inc. The company is located in mid-town Manhattan and along with the consulting job came a corporate apartment just across from Rockefeller Plaza. It’s been great to be in the city. I’ve seen a lot more than I otherwise would have of Kate, Rob & Sunny and I’ll miss the apartment (but not the time away from home) when the company headquarters moves to Beverly, MA in January.

Speaking of Rob and Sunny, they decamped from Brooklyn to the smallest city in Connecticut (Derby) in October where they are riding out the recession free-lancing in their respective fields. Kate is still at O, The Oprah Magazine and living in Tribeca and Bill is still busy at Sage Systems.

In the extended family, my parents made the move from their big old house to an all-on-one-floor home in a 55+ community in Lehman, PA. For the first time in 15 years, they won’t be spending the winter in Key West. Rip’s daughter Julia transferred from Connecticut College to Wellesley last January and Carl’s daughter Christelle transferred from Mass Bay to Northeastern in September. Both are meeting these new challenges successfully.

So we all go on. Like almost everyone else we know, collectively we have too few jobs and too many houses, but it’s all just part of the zeitgeist. We also have much to be grateful for and, as always, wish the same for you.

Bill & Barb

Harrry Covert and the Smell from Hell

I was chillin’ in my crib the first time it went down. A burst of light. Bright, dazzling. A bang, and then darkness.

“Help!” The cry was faint. Feminine. I couldn’t ignore it. “Somebody help us, please!”

I picked my way out from under the supine bodies of my neighbors.

“Help!”  The voice came from far above me, out of sight. Its effect was hypnotic. I moved toward it, climbing, squeezing through the tight openings. I was grateful, for once, for my wiry frame.

The voice grew stronger. I was almost there when it happened again. The light flashed, followed by a terrific Whomp! And then we plunged back into the dark.

I recovered my bearings and struggled on. I found her at last, on the second shelf, pushed to the rear, the fate of so many of her kind. She was green and glossy and smooth as glass. She called herself Sweet Pickles.

“Harry Covert, at your service,” I said. She was easy on the eyes and I’ve always been a sucker for a damsel in distress. “What can I do?”

“He can’t help!” someone whined acerbically from even further back. “He’s nothing but a String Bean.”

“Don’t listen to that guy,” my Sweet Pickles implored. “He’s just Sour.”

I tried to smooth things over. “It’s a common mistake. What seems to be the problem?”

“Something’s rotten.” Pickles’ tones were dulcet.

“I get that,” I said, innocent as a newborn, “but what’s the problem?”

“No. I mean literally. Something…someone is rotten. Can’t you smell it?”


“Of course he can’t!” Sour’s voice dripped acid. “It’s probably smelled like that since he got here. How many days have you been with us, anyway?”

Ah, the prejudice of the preserved against the unpreserved, the shameful class system of the refrigerated.

“Shut up, Sour!” Sweet Pickles rushed to my defense.

Light! Brilliant, dazzling light! I dove behind Sweet Pickles, but it only lasted for a moment. Then came the Whomp! And the dark.

“What the hell is that?” I demanded.

“They’re pretending they don’t smell it,” Pickles answered sadly. “The owners of this place. The man and the woman. She’s the one whose shoes go tappity-tap.”

“But why?”

“It’s a war,” Sour’s voice was caustic. “A war of wills. Each of them is pretending they don’t smell it. That way, the other one will have to deal with it.”

“My God. How long can this go on?”

“Days,” Sweet Pickles answered. “Weeks, sometimes. Now we’re in Stage One: Denial. They open the door, hold their breath, grab something quickly, then slam the door. If one of them doesn’t give in soon, they’ll move to Stage Two: Anger. They eat out for days on end, each of them seething at the other, but not talking about it. If it goes on long enough, it always ends the same way.” Her tone was ominous. “Stage Three: Capitulation. A general clear out.”

“Nooo!” There were gasps all around me. There is nothing Old Condiments fear more than a general clear out.

“I do not believe I can survive another general clear out,” a Chutney from Mumbai moaned behind Sweet Pickles.

“Purchased for a curry in the 90s,” Sweetie whispered. “Indian cooking turned out to be a phase.”

“But what can I do?”

“Find the problem,” Pickles pleaded, her gilt label winking sexily in the darkness. “And push whoever it is, whatever it is, to the front of the top shelf, right at eye level. The owners will be so relieved not to have to search for it, they’ll grab it and throw it away and the rest of us will be saved.”

“What about him?” I indicated a box of Baking Soda crowded up against the back wall. “Isn’t this his job?”

“Expired,” Pickles said tragically. “Months ago. Oh, Harry, you’re the only one who can save us.”

“I’m no hero,” I protested, but her sexy green brine got the better of me.

“Then get going, lad,” Sour commanded tartly. “You know the old saying. ‘When it smells like hell, start in the Cheese Drawer.’”

I worked my way carefully down the back of the shelves to the drawer marked Deli. Inside, the great Cheeses slumbered silently in their Ziplock bags. I spied my culprit in the corner. Covered in mold, he was horrible to behold.

“Okay, buddy. Up and at-em. Time to go.”

“Alors. What do you say?”

“You’re old. Time to go, before you get some friends of mine thrown out.”

“I am not old. I am Aged.”

“Look at yourself. The mold–”

“Beautiful, n’est pas? Grown only in ze caves naturelle de Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. I am not ze one you seek, mon pauvre garcon trompe. I am a fromage tres expensive. If you poosh me to ze front and one of them toss me in le garbage, zare will be une bataille royale and zis slamming of the door could go on toujours.”

There was a ring of truth to what he said, but I hate to disappoint a beautiful cuke. “Then it isn’t any of you? What about him?” I pointed to an ancient Pepperoni, his butcher paper half unwrapped.

“Whadda youse lookin’ at?” the Pepperoni demanded ferociously, trying to cover himself. “I been here since the Reagan administration and I’m loaded with enough nitrates to outlast alla yuz. Now get outta here before I kick your tiny bean ass.”

I was too smart to get into a beef with a shrunken salami. I high-tailed it back toward my Sweetie. I was half way there when I heard a faint tappity-tap. The door flew open, the light flew on and a Diet Coke flew out, waving a cheery good-bye. Now that I knew the lady of the house was trying not to look, I didn’t even bother to hide. Soon I was reunited with my dear Pickles.

“Not in the Cheese Drawer,” I reported.

“You sure?” Sour was piquant. “With Cheese it can be hard to tell.”

“Excuse me, sir, but was that Pepperoni fellow still there?” Chutney interrupted. “Perhaps he has been sliced and placed upon an hors d’oeuvre plate or, dare I hope, a pizza?”

“Still there and tough as ever.”

“He is even older than I am.”

“We have to figure this out.” Pickles brought us back to the problem at hand.

“The Milk?” I asked.

“Too obvious.”


“They’ll never crack. Did you see any uncooked meat on your travels?”

“Good Lord, no.”


“Left over from what?” Sour cut in rancidly. “Nobody’s cooked around here in months.”

I could tell Pickles was keeping something back. “What?”

“I don’t like to say it.”

“Oh, for crying out loud.” Sour fermented. “The only other place to look is in the Crisper.”

“The Crisper! That’s my part of this burg. I live there!”

“It’s true,” my Sweetie confirmed. “If it’s not in Deli, it’s the Vegetable Drawer, for sure.”

“But, I—“

“Please,” she begged, “just check.”

I took my time descending, my heart heavy. When I got there, I saw it with new eyes. The Crisper was a sad, sad place. No wonder people are so prejudiced against perishables. The problem was I didn’t see anyone who seemed rotten. The dried up half Lemon lacked smell entirely. There were two Eggplants, purchased in what I now understood to be a rare burst of enthusiasm at the same upscale Farmer’s Market and on the same day as myself. When things go wrong with Eggplant, they go unspeakably wrong. But these two still had their taut purple skins intact.

In the corner of the Drawer, white-whiskered, skin like leather, sat my mentor, my friend, Julian Carrots.

“Harry, how’s it hangin’?”

“Workin’ a case, Julian. Trackin’down a smell.”

“A smell? Perishables don’t trouble themselves with smells. With a few exceptions,” he gestured toward his desiccated body, “we’re not here long enough to care. Smells are the concern of the Upper Shelves.” When I didn’t respond, he went on. “It’s a dame, ain’t it? It’s some Up Shelf babe who’s got you tied in knots. She’s got you crawling through the seamy underside of the icebox, where you’ll see things you’ll never recover from. The Upper Shelf doesn’t care about you, Harry Covert. Walk away, now, before someone gets hurt.”

“I can’t, Julian. I gotta see this through.” I turned my back on my old friend and moved away.

“Stop before you get hurt!” he called after me.

I have failed, was all I could think as I trudged back to Sweetie. I took my time, hoping against hope. Crawling over to the shelves on the door, I checked out the Salad Dressings and the Tabasco. They were all well past their sell-by dates, but none of them were rotten.

“I can’t find it,” I confessed to Sweet Pickles.

“Then we are doomed.”

“I want to be with you, my sweet Bread’n’Butter. I want to spend whatever time you have left.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Sour acidulated. “You’re unpreserved! You don’t belong here. Go back to your miserable Drawer.”

“You don’t know squat about me,” I protested. “You don’t know what the future holds. I could be canned, or jarred, or even pickled!”

“Have you seen the people who own this dump?” Sour roared back. “In your wildest dreams, do you expect to be pickled?”

I had to admit, I did not. Prior to meeting my Sweetie, my greatest ambition had been to be stirred briskly in a little hot oil, perhaps with a few slivered almonds. But my devotion to my Sweet Pickles was making me a better Bean.

Then Chutney piped up. “My dear boy, I think it’s you.”

I looked down at my bottom-end, which was certainly the worse for wear. “That’s crazy. Just a little bruising. I’ve been working my tail off on this case.”

“No.” Even Sour didn’t relish telling me. “It’s definitely you. That’s why you can’t smell the smell. Did you even check the other Beans while you were down there?”

“Of course not!” I played at indignation, but my protest sounded feeble, even to me. I looked at my Sweet Pickles.

“Harry,” Chutney urged. “The only way to save her, the only way to save us all, is to sacrifice yourself.”

“No. Please, no. I’m just a Bean, a Bean in love.” But I knew what I had to do.

I crawled back to the Crisper, my heart heavy, my bottom-end unraveling. I didn’t want to do it. I knew I would regret it for the rest of my miserable life. I tore open the paper bag from the Farmer’s Market and looked into the bowels of hell.
Slime coated the bottom of the bag like an ugly goo monster, ever expanding to engulf more of the decomposing bodies of my fellow Beans. Wafting across the slime was the most horrible contagion of all, a thin carpet of furry, white mold. The smell was indescribable. I gagged, then steadied myself. I pictured my Sweet Pickles, glistening with moisture, waiting on the second shelf for me to save her. “C’mon boys,” I said, “time to make tracks.”

A few of my comrades protested feebly as I pulled the bag out of the drawer. I dragged it from shelf to shelf until we reached the top, the life seeping out of me every inch of the way. With my last ounce of strength, I pushed the Milk, the Bread, and the Margarine aside. Then I set out the bag, front and center, where the owners couldn’t miss it.

“Tis a far, far better thing I do,” I said, as I lay down in the bag, “than a Bean has ever done before. Tis a far, far better rest—“

Tappity, tappity, tap, tap. Whoosh! The door opened. The lights blazed.

“Oh, my Gawd!” The lady of the house lifted my bag and aimed it toward the garbage pail. (Where, truth be told, it would sit for three more days while the two them pretended not to know where that smell was coming from, until the man finally took it outside.)

“Eeeeyou! Ick. Ick. Ick”

I caught a glimpse of my Sweet Pickles as I sailed through the air. She’d fought her way to the front. A bead of condensation formed at her lid, slid down across her beautiful gilt label and dropped to the shelf below.

“I’ll always remember you, Harry Covert! I’ll always lo—“


My American Family

Christmas Day this year was spent at my husband’s brother’s ex-wife’s cousin’s house, which is to say, with friends.

We are as a group united by bonds of blood, law and friendship.  We have among us people whose ancestors came on the Mayflower and people who speak today with the accents of the countries of their birth.  We are Catholics, Protestants and Jews, some of us fervant in our beliefs, some of us equally fervant in our unbelief, and every form of questioner in between.

We range in age from eight to eighty.  We have children who came to us in every way children can come, step, adopted and biological, planned, longed for, and delightful surprise.  We have children who make us unbearably proud and children we worry about everyday.  Sometimes they are the same children.

This year we marked two deaths, four major illnesses, three surgeries, a divorce and two marriages.  On Christmas day, two couples no longer together smiled and treated each other with grace because their love for their children comes before their own pain.

This is my American family.  We are pale, ruddy, olive-skinned and brown.  We are blonde, red-headed, brown, black, white and gray-haired. For the last eight years this kind of big, messy stew has felt invisible, almost impossible in the onslaught of messages about things that should divide us, make us all one thing or another, push our differences in and our common humanity out. 

Yet all along, we have known it wasn’t so and gone on.

With hope for the future.  Happy New Year to all.


The Christmas Letter

This year without apologies–


Dear Family and Friends,


Happy Holidays to all!  In New England, we are in that awful snow/rain/sleet cycle that leaves everything treacherous and ugly.  We’ve tried to warm it up by hanging lots of outdoor Christmas lights.  I do love seeing them when I come up the street on these dark, dark days.

We are all well.  Kate survived both a layoff and an apartment disaster (toxic mold!) and has managed to land on her feet in both cases.  She is now the executive assistant to the publisher of O, The Oprah Magazine (see Kate’s name on the masthead!), and is living in TriBeCa.  I always explain to people that Kate has the Ugly Betty job, not The Devil Wears Prada job, because she works for the publisher, not the editor.  Also, she reports her boss is very nice.

Rob is still production manager at Leaders magazine (see his name also on the masthead!), so both the children are, as eight year-old nephew calls them, “magaziners.”  Rob is still living in Brooklyn, and one of the benefits for Bill and I is we have really gotten to know Brooklyn better—great restaurants and shops, museum and botanical gardens.

Bill is working hard at his company, Sage Systems.  I must say, he has taken the Red Sox victory entirely in stride (“Once a curse is broken, it’s broken.”) and has moved seamlessly on to football season and the Patriots.

I am coming off my infamous year off, and what a wonderful year it has been.  I actually get compliments about how good I am at taking time off.  (For anyone who wants lessons, write me!)  Some highlights of the full year included a writing seminar on Star Island, a small rock off the coast of New Hampshire, two visits to Key West, two fun long weekends in New York City, a wonderful week at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA and capping it all off, a fantastic trip to Italy.  Bill and I revisited Rome and the Amalfi Coast and then went to Sorrento, Pompeii and Capri.  Honestly, it was difficult to come home.

The extended family is well.  Next August, Rip and Ann’s son Hume will become the first member of his generation to tie the knot, so we are all happy and excited about that.  His sister Julia graduated from high school this spring and is at Connecticut College.  Carl and Eliana’s daughter Christelle also graduated this spring and is attending Mass Bay.

As always, we hope this letter finds you well and enjoying the spirit of the season.  We close, for the sixth year in a row, with hopes for peace.

Bill & Barb