Dear Atlantic Monthly,
You recently ran an article called "This Article in Too Long." It focused on how newspaper articles are full of gratuitous description and "fluffy" details that have no place in hard-boiled news. With complete lack of irony, it argued that the average sentence in a newspaper article could be cut down by at least a third while losing no meaning whatsoever.
I have one question for you: have you read your own articles?
They are quite possibly the longest articles in the world's history of publishing. And while I tend to find the first ten pages of each pretty interesting, after that my attention starts to lag.
I'm not saying you need to go all "thirty second attention span" on us. I love your investigative journalism. But perhaps you're not on the highest of moral high-grounds to be complaining about lack of judicious editing.
An expression about pots and kettles comes to mind, but in the interests of keeping this letter short, I'll simply allude to it.
* * * * *
Dear Most Magazines in the Checkout Lane at the Grocery Store,
When I've made the crucial error of taking two small children grocery shopping on a weekend afternoon and have to stand in a checkout lane for eight frillion hours, trying to keep them from man-handling the candy I will not buy, the least you could do is throw me a bone and write cover teasers that bear some relation whatsoever to the article titles in your table of contents. There is nothing more maddening than being sucked in by the promise of a juicy story about "Taming Preschool Tantrums for Good" only to find that no listed stories would appear to be about that topic.
And while we're at it? The teasers that are linked to tiny, one-paragraph filler items buried on a page full of pictures of lipstick? Those ought to be a criminal offense. If the topic is interesting enough to warrant hot-pink capital letters on the precious real estate of the cover, chances are readers want more than three sentences about it.
I suggest you contact the writers of Atlantic Monthly for suggestions on how to milk a few more details for a story.
Every Harried Mother in Kroger
P.S. If you do contact the Atlantic, do NOT ask them about cover mini-headlines. They are egregious offenders in this regard.
* * * * *
Dear the Few Magazines that actually put tiny page numbers on the cover under the teaser headlines, or include a screen shot of the cover with page numbers added for reference on the table of contents page,
I can turn to you in a pinch to try to save my sanity, and I admire the example you set for the rest of those publishing bozos.
If only you were magazines I liked to read, the world would be perfect.
Desperate in Checkout Lane 14
Monday, February 15, 2010
Dear Atlantic Monthly,
Friday, February 12, 2010
Oh, wonderful stainless steel dishwasher with the cavernous size, flexible rack design, extra rows of cup holders, and powerful cleaning!
You were a dream come true.
Until two days ago.
Now there is a growling noise that sounds as though a large-ish prop plane is preparing for take-off from underneath my kitchen cabinet.
Apparently this is a known problem. Apparently it is something to do with connections and insulation and pipes that vibrate against each other and the backs of cabinets when the machinery is running. Or something like that.
All I want to know is: if this is a known problem, why not do something to, you know, fix it? Like insulate the pipes better. Or redesign the thing so that it doesn't use an actual propeller blade for a part.
In the interest of proving that I am not exaggerating (and also, perhaps, because I am bored of coloring pictures to surround unicorn stickers this afternoon), I actually took a 15 second video of the front of my dishwasher while it was running.
It might be the most scintillating footage since Andy Warhol's epic movie about the Empire State Building. Don't know that movie? It's several hours long. It's a camera trained on the top of the famous building. The building doesn't move. The camera occasionally wiggles. At one point, about an hour and a half through, a bird flies across the sky. Then we're back, blissfully, to the unmoving building for another hour or so because all that drama was almost too much to take. The End.
So, my movie has the merit of being short. It does not, however, accurately capture the grinding roar of vibrating pipes and machinery very well. Apparently, the makers of the Flip video camera did not consider the needs of the Dishwasher Documentarian when setting the levels for the mic in their product. So, the movie has a hissy little murmur to it, but that it all. If I embedded the video that I uploaded to YouTube (oh, yes, I did, but it's thankfully marked private), you would scoff at the noise. Meanwhile, I feel like my eardrums are barely surviving a bad rock concert.
But my dishes are clean, and I didn't have to do them by hand.
So there's that. Even though I secretly hate both my dishwasher and my video camera a little bit right now.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
We had our first appreciable snow of the winter last night -- 8" -- which I know can only be described as "paltry" by those living in the greater-D.C. area, but at least we finally can't see the grass. And now that it's starting to look like Michigan around here, I can't stop thinking about the magic of snow-anticipation. As an adult (assuming you live in a northern state), waiting for the snow to hit each winter is sort of like waiting for the other shoe to drop: you know it's coming; it's just a matter of when and how hard it will fall. It's simply a question of whether it will be a weekend (coffee first, then shoveling at a leisurely pace) or a work day (shovel faster, double time! starting when it's not fully light out, and hope someone cooks you an egg after your 500-calorie pre-breakfast workout).
But as a child, the anticipation of snow is about more than just its logistics. Sure, there might be sledding and snow angels, snow people and hot chocolate, snow forts built in really good years, and snowballs lobbed at the parents as they shovel. But the real magic lies in the Snow Day -- that often-elusive combination of factors: a big storm with snow mostly falling overnight and into the early morning hours of a normal weekday. None of this Christmas vacation or weekend blizzard stuff. Oh, no. The Snow Day is the pinnacle of snow perfection because you get to stay home from school for a whole day in order to play in the snow.
If you even have to ask how much better this is than playing in the same snow all day on a Saturday, you were never a child.
We don't get snow days very often here in Michigan. We are well-equipped with snow plows and sand-and-salt trucks. We have road crews that can work through the night, and neighbors with snow blowers who will help out in emergencies. And yet, we have a snow day today for a storm that last winter would barely have registered on anyone's Possibly May Create The Need For A Snow Day radar. Last year, we had nearly a foot of snow 10 days before Christmas, and then we shoveled anywhere from two to six new inches of snow off the driveway nearly every single day after that for two weeks. And then, we had a few more good storms throughout January and February. But having had NO storms this year, southeast Michigan finds itself replete with the combination of excitement over a Big Snow and panic over "how do we deal with this stuff again?" And so the schools are closed.
My kids are still at daycare/preschool/latchkey because I have to work. And having been in kindergarten for only 100 days, Son doesn't really have the concept of the magic of a Snow Day that I am sure will hit in another year or so.
But I remember.
Of course, I grew up outside of Atlanta, where snow days are even fewer and farther between than they are in southeast Michigan. It rarely snows down there. But when it does, and if it doesn't melt as soon as it hits the warm pavement, there is simply nothing to do but wait. I recall one winter in middle school when it snowed about ten inches, and we were out of school for four days. FOUR days. Because there are no snow plows in the entire city of Atlanta except at the airport, and no one knows how to drive in snow, and so when there is a snowfall like that, all you can do is get out your cookie sheets and use them to slide down the hill in front of your house, then to bake some cookies to get warm, then to slide down the hill in front of your house some more. Until the snow melts.
In the South, on a snow day, you will carry out myriad magical projects dressed in the most bizzare of layers: tights underneath jeans; two pairs of socks, with plastic grocery bags over your feet and tucked into the sock tops before you put on your tennis shoes (who owns boots? no one, that's who); two more pairs of socks serving as mittens; a wool beret for a hat. If the roads are somewhat icy rather than just snowy, you will walk to your friend's house in ice skates (people take skating lessons, even in the South) rather than tennis shoes because they are far safer. Your best friend's mother will come to pick up you and her from school 45 minutes before the school is officially closed early for the day, and she will mortify your seventh grade selves not only by making you leave early but by adding to the absurd spectacle of your exit by insisting that you walk underneath the most enormous black umbrella on the planet all the way back to their house, so that you will be protected from the non-existent-but-it-could-happen-at-any-moment-and-you-can-never-be-too-careful falling limbs of trees.
You will sled and snowball fight and build forts and make snow angels right in the middle of the street because no one is driving anyway. Parents will let their preschoolers sled down the hill and into the cross street because the likelihood of traffic coming is as high as the likelihood of a moose showing up.
You will grow up remembering every tiny detail of the few precious snowstorms of your youth. And then you will go to college in Vermont, and when the snow starts to fly in October, you will race downstairs to the dorm room of your best friends and beg them to come out for a walk with you. And then will agree. But they will take a long time putting on their boots, and finding their wallets, and twiddling with their stuff as you shift impatiently from one foot to the next and look anxiously out the window all the time. "Hurry UP!" you will demand. "Calm down," they will say, looking at you funny. "But what if it stops snowing?" you lament. And they will burst out laughing and tell you, "Friend, it's not going to stop snowing until April."
And then you will realize that the childish anticipation, the glee at the sight of real flakes, the eagerness with which you throw yourself out into the weather, is partly a product of its rarity up until now. And you will laugh at your own panic ("when I was growing up, if we didn't get our shoes on the minute it started snowing, we might miss it completely"). But you will still feel vaguely anxious to get out into the snow right this minute. And you will wonder if you will always feel this way.
I'm here to tell you, twenty years later, that you still might. The snow, though it comes more predictably, and though it has to be removed through real labor, and though it is slippery to drive in and inconvenient, the snow is magical. It is fluffy and cleansing and crisp. It is the perfect for the quiet hiss...hiss... of cross-country skis breaking new tracks. It muffles and blankets, surrounds and embraces, transforms and invigorates the landscape.
Snow days, it seems, still have the power to enchant.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Son asks, "Mama, how does the baby get out?"
Mama gives standard answer that has worked just find since child was three, "the doctor helps it, honey."
"But, how does the baby get in?"
And now you know the power of a preposition.
* * * * *
Driving along a street flanked with modest, ranch-style homes, we pass one with this in the driveway. (Obviously, this picture is not taken in our Michigan town in February.) Son looks at it, turns to me, and says, "And why would they buy that anyway when they aren't even fancy?"
* * * * *
Nearly every morning, Son wakes up and wants to play video games. Typically, he plays JumpStart, which is a virtual world game where you make progress by completing tasks in the Math and Reading Arcades. But sometimes he wants to play something he saw on a computer at the after-school program. This morning, he asked if he could play "The World's Hardest Game." I told him I would look at it and decide.
"How do you spell 'world'?" he asked, poking one finger decisively onto the keys. "How do you spell 'hardest'?" We got through the spelling. I checked out the (perfectly safe) game. He started playing. For about two minutes, all I heard was, "Oh, come on! Oh, come on! Oh, come on!" every ten seconds or so as his little red square "died." There was a pause.
Then, "Mama," he said, "how do you spell 'easiest'?"
Remember: If you want moral support for your own personal fitness challenge in February, join us. And if you've already signed on, don't forget to email me your progress report tomorrow so that I can post an update on Sunday. What's working for you? What do you have to celebrate? What do you still want to work on?
Thursday, February 4, 2010
I know plenty of people who remove the obvious Halloween decorations on November 1 (you know, the skeletons, fake tombstones, cotton-batting spider webs, jack-o-lanterns). And then they artfully re-arrange the bales of hay, corn stalks, stacks of gourds, potted mums and other Harvest-type paraphernalia to create a new display that lasts through Thanksgiving. Whereupon they trot out the red bows for the front lamp post, the wreath for the door, and twinkle lights for the long line of shrubs that edges the path to their front door. These decorations stay up through the New Year and until some time deemed discretely appropriate in very early January.
It is all very orderly and seasonal and organized and proper and Impeccably Calculated to Make the Neighborhood Association Weep with Joy at the Neighborliness of It All.
And then there's me.
We carve our jack-0-lanterns a day or two before Halloween. We keep them on the front porch for those few allowable buffer days in November when it's not completely ridiculous still to have pumpkins on your doorstep. (They're gourds! Kind of like in a cornucopia! But with scary faces, so that's even better!) Then, on the first day of garbage pick-up after Halloween, we ditch the slowly collapsing faces. There are no Harvest Stalks of Autumnal Goodness to replace them.
About two weeks before Christmas, we trot out the red and white bows, the wreath, the stockings. We buy a real tree and cover it with twinkle lights and keep it lit in the front window in the evenings. We spend more time decorating inside than outside, though we do put something pine-y and bow-y on the black lamp-post at the top of the driveway. And, of course, we put out the luminaries that the Neighborliness Enforcement Association puts in our mailbox with the not-really-kidding note about how "everyone will notice" if your house doesn't participate in the Christmas Eve Luminary Lighting. (We generally have to ask one of our neighbors to light them, though, since we are always at my sister's house 40 miles away when dusk falls on Christmas Eve.)
We get the tree down in the first ten days of January, so as to be sure the yard waste/composting trucks, which make a special winter run to pick up Christmas trees, get ours. However, we may or may not manage to file away all the boxes of ornaments and stockings that same day. (Just getting that dry and prickly thing out to the curb without leaving every single one of its needles in the front hallway -- and then cleaning up all the needles it did leave -- is work enough for one day, if you ask me.) And, we may or may not get our few outdoor decorations down in a timely manner.
In fact, as I write this, we may or may not still have a wreath on our front door.
Hence, I feel a compulsive need to explain that, although my children are still playing with a pair of Christmas ornaments in the first week of February, in my defense, they were attached to very belated holiday present which they only received last week. And because the boxes of ornaments have been in the basement for a while now, the cute little stuffed gingerbread people that "sing" Jingle Bells have become part of the dollhouse family.
So, the fact that my front porch lights are still adorned with giant white bows and my front door still smells faintly of lovely eucalyptus when you open it in no way indicates that I am one of those people who doesn't know when enough is enough already with the holiday decorations. They may, I am quite willing to admit, indicate that I am one of those people who can't get her act together to take down the last three shreds of holiday decor in a timely manner. But, as with the putting up part: we paid more attention to indoors than outdoors, and we just kind of forgot about that wreath and those bows.
At least I don't still have a giant sleigh stacked with presents in my front yard, like one of the houses I pass every day on my way to work. Now that would be embarrassing.
Can anyone tell me: what is the statute of limitations on wreath surrounded by homemade snowflakes and bows? If you live in a climate with snow, can you just call it "Winter" decoration rather than holiday? And if so, does that mean that as long as you put it away sometime in February, you really ought to congratulate yourself for doing your own little part towards the Neighborhood Decorative Beautification Project? Or should you expect another one of those letters from the Association about how you are bringing down the tone of the whole street by not cleaning up after yourself in a timely manner? (Yes, we got one of those notes one fall, when we apparently left our leaves on the front yard, unraked, for too long. We only had one infant and THREE separate rounds of stomach flu that fall, so I can't really explain why we didn't rake faster. Wasn't it Neighborly of the Association to ask after our health!)
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
1. wake her up by lifting her shirt and blowing loud raspberries on her back; bonus speed to crazy if your sister does the same to her belly at the same time
1. take the matching Christmas ornaments that play a tinny, high-pitched version of "Jingle Bells" when their bellies are pressed, and repeatedly press the bellies of both ornaments at almost the same time, so that there is a cacophony of Jingle Belling throughout the house
1. throw yourself onto the pile of people snuggled in the bed first thing in the morning, and then whiiiiinnnnne, "stop touching meeeeee; I don't want anyone touching meeeeee"
1. ask her if you can ask her something important, and then ask it in a barely audible voice while hardly moving your lips at all: there is nothing better than a mumbling whisper for asking important questions (bonus points to crazy if you start to cry if she doesn't answer the question the way you hoped)
1. do all of the above before breakfast
Need something to keep you sane this month? Join us for moral support for the Great February Shape Up.