Kate has left Creativ & Company and has just started a job as the assistant to Jill Seelig, publisher of O, The Oprah Magazine. Rob is still working as the production manager at Leaders magazine, so both kids are, as my nephew Daniel says, “Magaziners.” Bill is still hard at work at Sage Systems, and I am doing a little consulting, but still am mostly just writing and hanging out at home.
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 seems like everyone I talk to asks (with a degree of expectation I always find a little daunting), “So What Are You Doing Now?”
When my colleague Lisa Philpott branded her time off in August, “The Summer of Lisa,” I knew immediately that this would be “The Autumn of Barb.” Lisa helpfully pointed out “The Autumn of Barb,” is much better than “The Fall of Barb,” which gives the wrong impression entirely.
So what have I been doing?
1) Cleaning closets. My closets are very clean. In fact, I invite you to come over to my house and open any one of your choosing. Those of you who know us well will recognize this as quite a turnabout from the days when we had young children and two jobs and whole rooms that were not suitable for visitor viewing.
As I have talked to former colleagues, closet cleaning has emerged as quite a theme. Our attics, basements and garages are spotless, our spices are alphabetized, our gardens are battened down for the winter and our cars are detailed. I have to say, we are probably the cleanest group of people around.
(In a related note, I had Bill’s car detailed and now it has the most peculiar, well actually, the most awful smell. I can only conclude that the wall-to-wall wrappers, receipts and empty Dunkin Donuts cups were somehow holding down the smell and now that they are gone it has been released. Needless to say, this wasn’t the objective of the whole detailing project and I guess the moral of the story is that some things are left well enough alone.)
But nonetheless, I have been
1) Cleaning closets.
2) I have also been cruising the internet. Well, not so much cruising, as checking. It seems that about the time I left work, an edict came down dictating that weather cannot change, the stock market cannot go up or down and no major event can occur (either news or celebrity-related) unless I have personally reviewed it. This keeps me very, very busy indeed.
So I have been
1) Cleaning closets
2) Checking the internet.
3) I have also been grocery shopping. This is frankly an amazing turn of events, since I have always said one of the major achievements of my adult life was convincing Bill that I should not be allowed to grocery shop.
(For those of you who might want to achieve this, it is really pretty simple. On a joint shopping trip—or as many as it takes—enter a catatonic state immediately after entering the store and start dumping things in the cart without looking at ingredients or universal price codes and just wait until your exasperated spouse orders you out. It is important at this moment not to let your ego get in the way—after all, what kind of a moron doesn’t know how to grocery shop? Humbly accept your fate and exit quickly, in the best of circumstances, never to return.)
So given my pride about convincing Bill for years that I could not shop, it has been quite a turn to find myself back in a grocery store. But given that he has been working full tilt and I have been, well, not, there is really no way around it. I have been confining myself to Whole Foods because they tend to have a small footprint and the label-reading is likely to yield something that has actual food in it relatively quickly. I had to go into a Super Duper Quadruper Stop & Shop for garbage bags the other day. It was the size of a nuclear power plant and had everything in it but a car dealership and I think I actually did become catatonic.
So, busy, busy, busy
1) Cleaning closets
2) Checking the internet
3) Grocery shopping.
4) The final thing I have been doing is keeping my mother-in-law’s plants alive. This is another major accomplishment for me. When I had children at home and employees to nurture, plants seemed superfluous and frankly just plain needy.
But since that all seems to be behind me for the moment, I have been voluntarily taking care of my mother-in-law’s plants in her apartment downstairs and I am happy to report that every one of them is still alive with only a month to go until she returns. Of course, I did take one of them up to stay with her in Maine, but that one had distinctly diva-like tendencies I couldn’t abide.
I haven’t moved any of the plants upstairs, where it would certainly be easier to care for them, because I don’t want them staring at me reproachfully when I am doing important things– like checking the internet. All and all, though, I am pretty proud of this plant achievement.
So, to review, I have been
1) Cleaning closets
2) Checking the internet
3) Grocery shopping
4) Keeping plants alive.
The main question I have is—how did I ever find time for a job?
It hasn’t all been work, work, work. I had ten days in Boothbay and a three-day writing retreat on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, and a weekend in NYC to check out Kate’s new apartment and Rob’s new apartment and see old friends. And, I have some really cool stuff coming up.
All and all, “The Autumn of Barb,” has been quite lovely and something I would recommend to anyone who can find the right time in life for it.
I had brunch with my children in New York City on Sunday and they are demanding an update to the blog since they think the entry containing the advice for Sheila (see June) casts some aspersions that are no longer accurate.
So, Rob is living in Brooklyn and working as the production manager for Leaders Magazine http://www.leadersmag.com/index.html . Kate is living and working in Soho at Creativ & Company http://www.creativandco.com . No one is spending much time on the couch or working nights at Kinkos (not that there is anything wrong with that).