Thursday
Nov052009

How low can you go, WaPo?

As a former newspaper reporter, I feel like a dirty traitor saying this: but I just might cancel our subscription to The Washington Post. 

That's how much I hate what they've done with the paper.

I grew up reading the Post and even delivered it on occasion when neighbors with paper routes went on vacation. I remember piecing together the Sunday paper from various stacks piled high on the floor of the garage. Then delivering the behemoths as the sun rose over our suburban streets with my father's massive blue wheelbarrow. 

My love - and allegiance - for my hometown paper runs deep, in other words. 

I revered Mary Jordan like others look up to rock stars; I picked Colman McCarthy when a college professor asked us to write about someone we admired (he even gave me a tour of the newsroom); and my ultimate career goal, for a time, was to work in the Post's Tokyo Bureau. 

When we moved back to the area several years ago, from a place I didn't want to leave, one of the few positives was that I got to walk out my door every morning and find the Post on my sidewalk. 

A lot has happened to the paper in the past three years. A lot of crummy crap in my opinion. 

It started when they dropped the "Life is Short" feature from the Sunday Style section. I loved that feature. It was the first thing I looked for when I opened the Sunday paper. And I wasn't alone. When I had my own 100-word piece published, friends, neighbors and strangers in the coffee shop stopped to tell me they saw my haiku.  To a person, they told me it was the feature they looked forward to most. 

A few months later, it was gone. 

Then, in no particular order, the Post dropped Book World; folded a separate Arts section into Style on Sundays, ditched a stand-alone Business section; revamped the Weather page into something unhelpful and lamentable; created a Local Living insert that's not at all enticing and altogether forgettable; made the WP Magazine seem more like a cartoon than a periodical; and then, AND THEN.... 

A few days before Halloween, I pulled the paper out of the delivery bag to find what the paper's ombudsman described as "the most significant redesign in more than a decade."

Was this a trick? It certainly wasn't a treat!

My head spins when I look at it. Like I've just gone ten rounds of "Ring Around the Rosy" with the kids. There's so much going on - so many competing fonts and colors - that my eyes don't focus on anything. 

And let me just say, I'm NOT a fan of the writer's portraits. Or the remodeled Reliable Source (it's bigger but definitely not better) and Date Lab features. The last of which was a topic at a recent Halloween party. Note to the Post: no one at the party liked the change or understood the reason for it.

Sometimes it feels like the people in charge are throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks. I know newspapers are suffering but why do the readers have to suffer too? 

The Post's ombudsman expressed surprise that so few readers told the paper what they thought about the change. And he noted that only 10 cancelled their subscriptions over the redesign. An editor at the paper suggested the reason may be because people are receptive to change.

I'll offer a different theory. How about this? We feel beat down and worn out by the changes and rather than wage an impossible battle, we disengage and give up. We bitch on Facebook or at parties. We yell at our spouses at the breakfast table, "Do you see what they've done now? Can you read this? I can't read this. WHAT'S ANOTHER WORD FOR CRAP?"

And we consider canceling the paper. 

It breaks my heart to say it, especially because I want my four young children to continue to see the paper around the house. To point out their president - "Look, it's Bak Bama." To ask questions about photographs and words. To wonder about stories Kent and I talk about.

A few weeks ago, I walked into the kitchen where Josephine had the paper spread out before her. "I'm the Mommy," she said. "I read the newspaper."

Sadly, that may not be the case any longer.

Wednesday
Nov042009

Daylight Saving Saves No One

Dear Tobias:

I know you're just a wee lad -- only 14 months and all - so you can be excused for your unfamiliarity with Daylight Saving Time and the proper etiquette surrounding it. 

You've been a good member of the team so far, but unless you want to be benched or traded to another team, you're gonna have to figure this one out buddy.

Did you see the clock this morning? It said 4:46 a.m. 

As in 4 o'clock. IN THE MORNING! A classmate from high school calls that "the butt crack of dawn." I tend to agree.

It's when donut makers, newspaper delivery folks and farmers start their day. Not us.

Did you happen to look out the window? Totally dark. That's a dead give away, Mister. It means it's nighttime and, stay with me here, I know it's a hard concept, but nighttime means sleep time.  

As if you needed anymore clues to the obvious, did you notice that no one else in the house was awake? The lights were off. Everyone was quiet. 

Except you! 

Listen, most of us big people don't get it either. We change the clocks twice a year because that's what we're told to do. It's a centuries old notion to give us more light on delicious summer nights and dreadful winter mornings.

The Internet tells me it saves energy, encourages shopping, fuels the economy and cuts down on traffic accidents. It also tells me that pedestrian fatalities skyrocket the first few weeks after the clocks are set back in autumn. 

That's what we call yin and yang. You'll learn about that later. 

Anyway, Wikipedia tries to explain the arbitrary time change like this: 

"Daylight Saving is the practice in some places of adjusting clocks forward in the Spring and back in the Fall, usually by one hour, so that the adjustment causes parents heads to explode when their children wake an hour early and caterwaul to the heavens until those parents drag themselves from bed, scrape their brains off the floor and walk like zombies from Day of the Dead."

Ok, so I made up the back half of that definition.

But now that you know what Daylight Saving is, here are the new family rules:

Dinner is at 5 o'clock. Please don't start stalking me through the house an hour earlier, head-butting my legs and screaming at my back. 

Bedtime is at 7 p.m. Don't you dare flame out any sooner. 

And now, for the non-negotiable....

Morning starts at 6 a.m. - the NEW 6 o'clock - and not a minute earlier. Break this rule, Mr. Man, and we're sending you to Grandpa's house. 

Hugs and kisses, 

Mama

Tuesday
Nov032009

Hell, in haiku form

Brain and face frozen

Concrete in my sinuses

Two fever-racked kids

Something about the craptastic-ness of the day inspired me to free verse. Now it's your turn. Capture your own day in haiku and share it with me in the comments section. You can make me envious of your fabulous good fortune or we can laugh in shared misery.

What's it going to be?

 

Sunday
Nov012009

Quarantine

It rained throughout the day. The block party moved inside. A scarecrow stole the first platter of candy. My oldest spiked a fever and couldn't go trick-or-treating. 

It should have been a scary bad Halloween. But it wasn't. 

"I thought it was great," said the kid who spent the night quarantined on the porch. 

We dressed in costumes, scooped slimy goo out of pumpkins, carved goofy Jack-o'-lanterns then waved 'good-bye' to the rest of the gang. This wasn't what we planned. It's not how it should have been. Sick on Halloween. The holiday she's been talking about since last year. 

All dressed up as a rough and tough cowboy, Esme leaned over the porch railing and wept quietly as her siblings marched away. Plastic pumpkin candy collectors in their hands. 

Eventually, the tears rolled away like the rain and we carved a new kind of Halloween fun. We talked about school and yoga class. We collected a pile of pumpkin seeds to roast. We went inside to eat dinner and caught a scarecrow stealing candy. We watched the trick-or-treaters and enjoyed the costumes. 

Dusk turned to night; Tobias went to bed; and Desmond and Josephine made their way back down the street knocking on doors and collecting candy. 

Esme leaned over the railing again - laughing this time instead of crying. We could see Desmond waving a purple glow stick he scored at the party. And we could hear him as he greeted the neighbors. 

KNOCK KNOCK -- door opens

"I'm a dog!"

KNOCK KNOCK -- door opens

"I'm a dog!"

Esme laughed and laughed and mimicked her brother. "I'm a dog. I'm a dog." She looked back at me over the railing. No tears. Just a big smile. 

Once home, Desmond and Josephine gave Esme the bag of candy they gathered for her. The three of them sat down and immediately set to sorting their booty and trading treats. 

 

This morning, the fever subsided, the cough is gone and the talk is all about the costumes they'll wear next year. Planning for Halloween. Already.

"I want to be a fairy with wings," Desmond tells us. 

"Boys can't be that," Josephine insists.  

"Sure they can," I say. 

Looks like it won't be a typical Halloween next year either.

Saturday
Oct312009

Boo-humbug

I planned to dress as a ladybug for Halloween. Maybe I should go as a pig.

That's right. Our house may currently be infected with swine flu.

Or not.

The doctor doesn't know and, of course, they're not testing. 

Esme started coughing last night and this morning her cheeks looked like someone splashed them with red paint. Her temperature: 101.8. The doctor took her immediately. Checked her lungs. A-oK. Then sent her home with instructions to wash her hands and take it easy.

Happy Halloween, Dr. Killjoy!

Of course, Esme dissolved into tears at the table when I told her this meant no trick-or-treating. And worse, no block party! 

For weeks, we've been talking about the fete the street is throwing. We're blocking traffic this afternoon and putting up tents and tables. It's a potluck party with kids games, adult beverages, costumes and the second annual kids photo. 

The first rule of parenting is be flexible. Actually, I just made that up to suit my purposes.  Better first rules might be patience, understanding, a well-stocked liquor cabinet, a good shrink on speed dial.  I'm sure you have your own.

Anyway, I switched gears quickly and now Esme and I have a party of our own planned. On the porch. Where we can see the block partiers but not infect them. We'll dress up and carve pumpkins and have a time of it. 

So, where am I going to find a pig snout and corkscrew tail on such short notice?