Seven books that fell behind my bed

Seven quick takes! I hope you can see the pictures – WordPress is being a bag of butts, and won’t let me upload in the normal way, so I just pasted them in. Here are seven books I either just finished or am in the middle of, perhapsh indefinitely. “Perhapsh” was a typo, but I kind of like it.


Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller.

I have never read a book like this before. It’s so harrowing and so appealing. A memoir of growing up poor, white, and crazy in Africa in the 70′s and 80′s. It’s like Dostoevsky meets Florence King. I haven’t finished this one yet – had to take a break.


The Most of P.G. Wodehouse

Ah, I forgot I had this book! I was reading stories to the older kids occasionally, and it warmed my heart so much to hear them shouting, “He’s been throwing cats all the evening!” So delightful, so nice, so insane. Must get more P.G. Wodehouse into my life. This particular collection is nearly 700 pages long.


Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison



Meh. I wanted to like this book, but I just wasn’t buying it. She would have these wonderful, lyrical passages full of beauty and anguish, and then all of a sudden we’re back to, “Representative Black Man felt this way about his father, and, so you see, that is why he did those things to women. When will white folk see?” I don’t mind beingshown that, but being told that is just odious. I also don’t think she really pulled off the central conceit of the book, the stuff with the children’s rhyme. It was supposed to unify everything, but it felt tacked on. Maybe I’m missing something.


The African Witch by Joyce Cary

I don’t know if I can count this one, since I honestly don’t quite understand the plot. More white people behaving badly in Africa. I loved The Horse’s Mouth (about the artist) so much, maybe I should just go back and read that one again. Charley Is My Darling (about evacuees from London during the war) also broke my heart but landed much more tenderly than I was expecting.


Bob and Ray: Write If You Get Work

Transcripts of their nutty little radio skits from the 40′s and 50′s. Would this be funny to someone who hasn’t heard the audio? I have no idea. Here’s an excerpt of an interview with a P.R. rep from the Oatmeal Institute near Thanksgiving:

Bob: Well, this is an aspic mold, isn’t it, that you brought, and you’re gonna put that on the center of the table and try to  make people think it’s a turkey, or what?
Gibbes: No, no, you can’t fool — no, no, no, that’s not the idea at all. No, Bob, you’re pulling my leg.
Bob: You mean you bring it out and say, ‘Look at the mold in the shape of a turkey, this is oatmeal’?
Gibges: No, you say, ‘I think I’ll slice the oatmeal,’ and that’s it. It’s just that it’s in the shape, you can have it in the shape of anybody. I mean, I just pick a turkey because you have that at Thanksgiving a lot.
Bob: What success have you had with orienting the public, or changing the public’s conception of Thanksgiving dinner?
Gibbes: I haven’t changed the public’s conception of oatmeal one iota.



Bossypants by Tina Fey



I bought this at some airport and immediately become the worst seatmate ever. I was laughing so hard I had to put it down before I had to call the flight attendant for terbutaline. It’s not exactly a biography, and some parts were clearly just patched together to get the word count perking along, and she’s, you know, she’s not Mother Teresa. But oh my gosh, funny funny funny.


Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett


Technically I’m not reading this yet, because I haven’t gotten past the first few pages. But I read the first sentence and shouted, “WHAT?!?!” and read it three more times. Here is the first sentence:

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte.

I wanted to kiss Hammett for going to the trouble. Talk about earning your readership.

So, what are you reading?  Thanks to Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum for hosting the link-up!



Seven Quick Takes: Oy, have you got the wrong number



It being Advent, it occurred to me that Toad more or less makes an act of contrition in “Alone” in Frog and Toad All Year:

“Frog! I am sorry for the dumb things I do. I am sorry for all the silly things I say. Please be my friend again!” And then he falls into the water with all his sandwiches, amen.

PIC toad with basket


Here is a picture of Arnold Lobel with his daughter, Adrianne:

PIC Lobel with daughter


found here. It says:

She says what she learnt most from her father as an artist was “discipline and faith -and  you got up every day and just faced that drawing table whether you had an idea or not, and just kept at it the same hours every day, until you did have an idea. And generally it was a good one.”

Want to make a living doing something creative? Read and re-read and internalize the paragraph above.

It’s also probably a good idea to spend a good, long time creating things that you don’t care about at all — and learn to do a good job at it. If you’re, oh, let’s say, a writer, learn to hit the word count your employer wants, don’t use the words they don’t like, hit all the points they want you to hit, and make it readable even if the topic is deathly dull. And get it in on time, even if you’re sick, or bored, or think you’re too good for this kind of thing.

Your natural talent and your creative spark and your originality are just one aspect of what you have to offer, and they are useless unless you also learn discipline and skill. You’re an exquisite jain-yus? Who cares? Shed the idea that even one single person owes you a reading.

Also, learning how to do a good job whether you’re inspired or not helps you stress out less when you do what to write something that does mean a lot to you. It helps you go, “Oh, well, what the hell” when some editor makes a hash of what you submitted. You did your best, you turned it in, you cashed your check, you moved along.

PIC soapbox. These things need handrails for giant pregnant ladies who need somewhere safe to rant.


Speaking of brilliant, hard-working writers,my second-grader brought her journal home yesterday, and it was full of unfinished stories. Here is one:

photo (1)

“One night Ashley and Maya went to the grave of their old friend, Lisa. It all happed 4 years ago in a grave. The only person with her was her boyfriend, Jim. He claims that she was pulled underground by”

There was an accompanying picture two willowy teenagers with flowing hair, fleeing gracefully from a gravestone with an arm coming up from it. It appears that their dead pal was black. Talk about learning your craft! I don’t know how she knows that that’s how horror movies go, but I think she has a back-up career, if the whole ballerina thing falls through.



We showed the kids The Manchurian Candidate the other day, because, I forget why. We try not to keep stopping movies and explaining things constantly, but remember, we have seven daughters. So when Frank Sinatra meets the lady on the train, my husband got up, found the clicker, smacked “pause,” and said, “All right, now look, girls. If you are on a train and you meet Frank Sinatra, and he is all sweaty and shaky, and can’t even light his own cigarette, you do not give him your address.”


PIC Sinatra. She’s thinking, “Unstable? Secretive? Bathed in nervous sweat? HOT DIGGITY!”

In the interest of fairness, he also counselled the boys against proposing to girls who are clearly nuts just because they happen to take their shirts off when you get bitten by a snake.

In other news, I had forgotten just how weird this movie is.



Would you like to laugh until the dog gets worried? Check out Bad Kid Jokes. These are the jokes that kids sent into a joke site, and which they couldn’t use for . . . one reason or another. Sample:




Benny helped me make a side dish for supper the other day.

photo (2)



Her recipe included baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cheese, sage, eggs, and miscellaneous. While breathing heavily, whisk all ingredients together until you’re bored.  Let congeal, then move onto wrecking up the bathroom.


photo (3)



This is the kind of thing that makes people say, “Oh, you are such an easygoing mother! You have such interior freedom! What wonderful peace you must have cultivated!” and I’m like, “No, this way I can be on Facebook.” Given the choice, I will almost always choose cleaning up a mess over keeping things under reasonable control.  That’s why we have ten kids. It just seemed easier than not having ten kids.


Speaking of getting things wrong, it reminds me of this:

Phone rings.
Mrs. Moskowitz: Hello?
Cultivated voice: Good awfternoon. I am calling to inquire whether you might be available to come to tea with her ladyship Tuesday after next.
Mrs. Moskowitz: OY, have you got the wrong number.


And that’s a wrap. After many years, Jen Fulwiler has passed the Seven Quick Takes torch onto the hilarious Kelly Mantoan of This Ain’t the Lyceum.  Head on over and say hello to Kelly and check out all the other QTs. Happy Friday!

Seven Quick takes: Seven Really Good Books for Young Adults

Wow, I haven’t done a 7QT in forever! And I’m not actually doing one now. This post originally ran in 2010. I was inspired to rerun it when the The New Yorker printed this appreciation of A Canticle for Leibowitz . Enjoy, thou parents looking for some decent fiction for your older kids!


Sorry this is so long.  I didn’t have time to write anything shorter.

Seven Quick Takes:  Seven Really Good Books for Young Adults

When I was in high school, everything we read had to be about either the Holocaust, or suicide, or both.  An exception could be made for books about racism, provided several lynchings were described in technicolor.  Then, after we finished our assigned reading for the year, the school board would hold a workshop on what to do about rampant and debilitating depression in the student body.

Well, it’s too late for me, of course.  As soon as I’m done with this post, I’m going to go huff some wood glue, write a note blaming my parents, and OD on some Xanax I stole from the locker room while listening to Nevermind (to my younger readers:  check your oldies station if that reference puzzles you.  Oh, lord. . . )

But you still have a chance.  Here are seven books of fiction I recommend for your teenager or almost-teenager.  Kids that age do enjoy a good bout of angst, but these are books that don’t glorify teenage gloom, or teach that it’s the world’s job to learn to appreciate the delicate genius that is Teenage Me.  Not all of the books are about teenagers, and all of them could easily be enjoyed by adults.  Most of these books are about courage, and about something that teenagers really need to know:  how to discern true love from its flashier counterfit.  With the possible  exception of the Patterson novels, I don’t think this list is too girly.  The only other thing they have in common is that they are stuffed with good ideas that young people need to hear, and the writing is far above average. There is even one post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, such as the young parsons enjoy these days.


Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

This one is often included in YA lists, but not for the right reasons, I think.  Teenagers won’t fully appreciate the themes of love and fidelity in this  fleshing-out of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but there is plenty else in this gorgeous and searing novel to grab them by the scruff of the neck and shake the stupid ideas out of them.  Heartrending and intense.  For grades 9 and up.

–2 and 3–

Two novels by Katherine Patterson:

Jacob Have I Loved is a coming-of-age novel about twin girls living on a crabbing island in the Chesapeake Bay in the 1940′s.  One sister is lovely, talented, fragile, and secretly vicious — the other, the narrator, is plain, strong, and full of rage.  The character of the horrible old grandmother is unforgettable.  The book achieves something I always look for in a novel:  honesty about the flaws of the main character, with flashes of sympathy for even the worst characters.  Flawless in structure, characterization, and style.  For grades 7 and up.

Another excellent novel by Patterson, suitable for grades 5 and up, is The Great Gilly Hopkins.

It’s like Flannery O’Connor, Jr.  Great portrayals of hypocrisy, great portrayals of genuine love by a genuine Christian, who happens to be a fat, trashy, semi-literate foster mother named Trotter.  It could easily have dissolved into melodrama, but resists.  My only quibble is with the character of the black teacher, Miss Harris — she seems a bit too glibly drawn as the hard-as-nails and smart-as-a-whip black teacher with a heart of gold, etc.  All the rest of the characters, though, are thoroughly believable, from Trotter, to her pathetic ward William Ernest Teague (W.E.T.), to the greasy-haired would-be sidekick, Agnes Stokes.  (See, I remember all their names, and I haven’t read this book for years.  It sticks with you!)  I believe it’s sold as a novel about racism, but it’s really just about love, failures of love, and redemption.


The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

I know, I know.  The guy passed it off as an autobiography, and it wasn’t.  Pretty awful — but darn it, I still like the book.  It is beautiful and funny, and I feel happy while reading it.  I wish I knew the characters in real life, which is more than you can say for most novels or autobiographies.  If you’ve heard that this book is just a piece of anti-white propaganda, you’ll be surprised.  I suppose there’s a message in it, but it’s not the main point — the story is, and it’s a wonderful story about a boy growing up with his Cherokee grandmother and half-Cherokee grandfather in the mountains during Prohibition.   Also, it makes descriptions of scenery interesting.

Apparently it’s been criticized as perpetuating the “noble savage” stereotype of the American Indian, but, again, I just don’t see that.  What I read was an ancient story of happiness, broken by a terrible grief and darkness of separation, and then a return to happiness, until Eden is outgrown.  To read more into it than that is to deprive yourself of a good story.  For grades 6 and up.


A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

This one is for older teens, for sure.  The story is complicated and demands a lot of the reader.  To be honest, I’m too tired to explain the plot to you.  It’s about Catholic monks and Jews and miracles and nuclear war and space travel and mutants.  It’s a crazy, grotesque, hilarious, fascinating epic with lots and lots of ideas.  There is a disturbing theme of the cyclic nature of history that seems to imply a “new” Immaculate Conception, but a teenager with a good grounding in the faith won’t be troubled by it.  I like how the priests are real men.  It will appeal to lovers of science fiction, but is so much more than that.


The Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Guareschi

Three collections of short, sweet, funny and poignant stories from post-WWII Italy about a large and rash village priest and his rival, the equally large and rash communist mayor Peppone.  If you don’t enjoy these stories, there is something wrong with you.  I could do without the cartoonish illustrations by the author, but the stories are hugely entertaining, and touch on all kinds of interesting theological ideas.  Don Camillo’s conversations with the crucified Christ in his church are authentic and moving.  For grades 7 and up.


Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

Please note that, for your edification, I hunted until I found what is probably the most hideous and irrelevant book cover ever to cover a book. I mean, look at it! What the hell is that?

The first two books of the space trilogy are great stories and provide so many memorable scenes (the third in the series, That Hideous Strength, takes a different turn and is not for the kiddies).  It was from Perelandra that I learned that evil isn’t interesting and the devil isn’t clever or charming — as Ransom learns one night as keeps watch on the beach with the Un-Man, and they have the following dialogue all night long  “Ransom.” –  “What?” – ” . . .Nothing.”

For more mature teenagers — there are ideas about sexuality which are entirely Catholic (yes, I know Lewis wasn’t), but which less mature kids won’t be able to manage.  The only part that might strike readers as dated is the fact that the villain wants to conquer worlds and force humankind on the universe, whereas today’s humanist villains are more interested in shrinking and curtailing the human race.  It might be an interesting conversation to discuss what the current evil ideas have in common with the ones in the books.

There are many, many wonderful scenes in both books.  I was especially affected, as a teenager, by the passage in Perelandra where Ransom protests to God that there is a representative of Evil in the world, fighting for the soul of the unfallen Lady — and why is there no champion of Good?  And the silent and terrifying  answer comes booming back at him:  you.  There is also the memorable phrase, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, here goes!  I mean, Amen!”  Lewis’ descriptions of scenery are the only drawback to these books — he does go on and on, and you have to read really carefully to understand what he is describing.  I think these passages could simply be excised without any damage to the books.  For grades 10 and up.


You’ll notice there is no Madeleine L’Engle in this list.  I read her books several times as a Young Adult, and I’m sure they influenced me, but I just don’t like her.  I don’t like her smarmy characters, I don’t like how her ideals of family life are utterly saturated in six kinds of snobbery.  I don’t like the loosey goosey games she plays with comparative religion, and her stories leave me cold,  irritated and unsatisfied.  I’m always astonished that she’s described as some kind of genius — her prose always strikes me as hokey and stilted.  She is very original, I’ll admit, but I have very little patience with her “Oh-the-aching-wonder-of-it-all” genre.  I wouldn’t say “don’t read her stuff,” but I think you’ll do just fine if you never do read her.

Okay, so, yay, I wrote a blog post!  Thanks to the gracious and prolific (in every way)Jen Fulwiler for hosting Seven Quick Takes every Friday.

UPDATE:  In the comments of the original post, several readers mentioned Patterson’s Bridge to Terebithia and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  My take:  yes, Bridge to Terebithia is just awful.  As reader Suburban Correspondent put it,  “It was everything that was wrong with YA books in my youth – all the hopelessly messed-up adults, the characters manipulated by the author to send some sort of message.”  Yup, pretty much a blight on Patterson’s career.  Her books that I recommended are totally different.  I also remember that her novel The Master Puppeteer was quite good, and is about a boy.  She has written many  historical novels for young adults.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is fantastic — good call, folks.  I can’t imagine a boy really enjoying it, but it really is a wonderful book, despite some hokiness  It’s about a girl growing up in the slums in Brooklyn before and during World War II.  Betty Smith’s other books, unfortunately, are dreadful!  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is fiction, but obviously semi-autobiographical, and is very moving and full of insight into a young girl’s mind.  Some of her notions about sex could be a little damaging to susceptible girls, though, so you should probably read this one first, and discuss it with your daughter.

Seven Quick Takes: In Which Benny Meets Her Match


And we’re home from camping!  Or, “camping.” Whatever, you tent-loving masochists. It was rustic enough for me. Nobody fell in the fire, nobody got permanently lost, nobody drowned, nobody got carried off by wildlife, we didn’t need to test whether our insurance covered out-of-state ER visits, and nobody even pulled anybody’s hair until we were – get this – two minutes away from reaching home. We managed to stretch a three-hour road trip into five hours, but we made it.

And guess what? I didn’t take a single photo! My husband took a few, but I haven’t seen them yet. There was just too much water and sand and dirt and moving around to mess with cameras much.

Here’s my seven wordy takes on our trip:



The happiest memories of my childhood are memories of the ocean, so I was absolutely ravenous for my kids to have the same experience. And they did! Miles and miles of sparkling blue ocean with waves big enough to toss you around; a buffeting breeze, thieving seagulls that made off with a whole bag of chips, the tugging of the sand away from your feet as the waves withdraw. They played and played and played, and the ocean played back, until our skin was glowing, our mouths and scalps were full of sand, our legs were like jelly, our fingers were salty and puckered, and our ears were full of the sound of the wind and the water. We staggered home completely sated.

Then, on another day, we tried another beach, closer to our campsite. I told the kids it was the same ocean, but it really wasn’t. This was the beach that made you realize why Poseidon was called “Earthshaker.” It was stifling hot, but the air was full of steam, so you could see past a few waves, and then .  . . the abyss. There could have been anything out there, or nothing. The waves slammed on the beach with a cracking sound, and every wave threw pale, scrabbling crustaceans onto the sand. There were no shells to collect — they had all been pulverized into bits by the pounding sea. The water was purplish, and it hissed. We stayed for a few hours until we were defeated, and then went home to rinse off at the campground, where the fresh pond water felt as gentle and mild as a giant cup of lukewarm tea. Whew!

So, kids, that was the ocean! Now they know.



At one point, at the nice beach, the PA system announced that a lost child was looking for his family, and I thought, “Huh, did they say ‘Eliza’ or ‘Elijah”? Oh, well.”

Then they announced that it was Elijah, and he was ten, and still unclaimed. And I thought, “Wow, I also have a son who is ten and who is named Elijah. What a coincidence! Well, it was a popular name that year.”  I felt sorry for the mom whose son was missing.

Then I wondered where my son was.  Yarr.



There is staring at a TV screen and thinking about nothing for an hour, and there is staring at a campfire and thinking about nothing for an hour.  Not the same kind of staring, and not the same kind of nothing.



PIC campfire


If you are living with nine children in what is essentially Dirtville, and are taking sojourns into Sweat-and-Gritsville, with a sidetrip into World of Soot, with occasional sorties into the Land of Grime and Itch, you may find that you want to take a shower. You may discover that the state park charges you $1.25 for five minutes of hot water. PAY IT.



We visited the Mystic Aquarium, where a “family membership” price doesn’t mean “two adults and as many as two children, if you are so gauche as to have as many as two children.” They also let you go out for lunch and come back in without paying again. And they had great fish and whatnot to look at! We got to pet sharks, and one of their three Beluga whales did something no one else could manage over the course of the whole trip: it made Benny stop shrieking for a minute. This whale was drifting back and forth in front of the glass where the dear child was having tantrum #897,932, and it was clearly watching her very closely. She didn’t like the look in its eye, and whacked the glass. It stopped right in front of her, and it tried to eat her. Or at least it popped its toothy mouth open right in front of her face.

PIC beluga mouth



And lo, there was quiet! Good one, whale.

I’ve been to aquarium shows where the creatures are impeccably trained and the trainers are unflappable, and clearly in charge. This was not one of those shows, and it was utterly charming. The sea lions mostly did what they were told, but sometimes they acted like big dumb stubborn dogs who were confident that their trainers loved them anyway. Then there was one sea lion who just refused to participate at all, because it’s mating season, and he had better things to do. That’s what I liked about this aquarium in general: they had really neat stuff to show us, but they didn’t take themselves too seriously.

They also had something I’ve never seen before: three “mermaid purses” in special display cases, so you could see the developing embryo inside.  They were about an inch across, and you could see the tail waving back and forth like a metronome, and that little shark waited and waited, just biding its time and growing. If you looked closely, you could make out one skate’s beating heart.



We saw an ice cream parlor called “Gelato Fiasco.” We did not stop there.


GIF nope nope nope octopus


I love sheets.


Happy Fourth of July to all my American friends! We’re rained out here, which means we get an extra day to unpack and desandify ourselves before our family cookout and explodyfest tomorrow. Don’t forget to check out the other Seven Quick Takes at Conversion Diary.

Seven quick, gratifying reads


Okay, so this

Pope Francis waving


is not exactly this

Agentinian Pirate guy

but if you want to understand someone, it’s always helpful to learn a bit about the culture they come from. From (huh!): 15 differences between a normal friend and an Argentinean friend. Cute.



A quick and insightful post from Clare Short, The Mantilla Blues, which is not really about veiling, per se, but about how we think we can hide from God by doing God stuff, and God is like, “Stop it, silly. I can see you.”  Short, sweet, smart.



A longer but just as insightful piece from Jessica Griffith (yay, I found a great new author! New to me, I mean): “Against Gratitude.

[I]t seems it’s no longer enough to endure or even embrace the endless Sisyphean chores of parenting and life. We Christian parents must enjoy them, and our children must enjoy them, and the key to obtaining this joy—and the measure of our faith—is our gratitude for it all.

We mean well, but our current obsession with gratitude is just another indication that we’ve lost our heads in a race to make the mundane glorious. We aren’t shocked to find God hiding beneath the salt cellar, as the art critic John Berger once put it—we fully expect him there. We’ve already Instagrammed the saltshaker and tagged it blessed.

This no longer strikes me as worshipping a God of small things, the little way of St. Therese or Brother Lawrence, but as making gods of small things, holding up the trivial and the banal and calling it transcendent.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I think she’s getting at something that I wanted to drive home when I was responding to the claims that you can so guarantee fidelity in marriage, because grace. Griffith says,

It is good to be mindful of [the presence of God making good out of all things]—of course it is—but the moment we think we can trace his movements through our days is the moment we deny the mystery of those movements.

“Truth is not something that can be possessed like a tea-cosy,” Caryll Houselander wrote. Or, as her publisher Frank Sheed put it, “Really seeing it includes seeing why we cannot see more of it.”

Yes.  Many critics groaned that I was  overemphasizing the pain and suffering that are possible or even likely in marriage. In fact, I was rebelling against the taming of marriage. Love doesn’t fit inside a goody bad marked “grace” that you get at really nicely planned weddings. It’s heavier than that, but in many cases, it’s much, much,ever so much bigger and better than that.  I was talking with Fr. Dwight Longenecker about this yesterday, when we recorded a radio interview (to be broadcast later):  we need to stop expecting love to be like Disneyland — and we need to stop wishing that love will be like Disneyland. Not because it’s too much to expect, but because it’s too little.



So, Jennifer Fulwiler’s memoir, Something Other Than God, is coming out soon. I read it. On my treadmill. I stayed on my treadmill longer so I could finish reading it. That’s how good it is.  And how good is Jen Fulwiler? She is offering a free ebook to anyone who pre-orders her book.

Details here. The ebook is called The Family-First Creative:  47 Tips for Following Your Dreams While Putting Family First.  Nice!



Remember the wonderful photos of Pope Francis hugging that hugely joyful little boy named Dominic?

PIC Francis embracing Dominic


Well, his family recently did a fundraiser to buy one of these brilliant new devices, which allows disabled children to walk along with their parents.

I didn’t even hear about the fundraiser until it was over — because the project was fully funded in five hours. See, there are good things in the world and even on the internet!



And not even a read, but definitely gratifying. Or, not gratifying, but, look, if you like this kind of thing, it’s exactly the kind of thing you’ll like:  Celebrities that Look Like Mattresses.  For instance, Mickey Rourke and his doppelmattress:

PIC Mickey Rourke and mattress
It was hard to pick one photo that would give you an idea of what this feature is about, because I really don’t understand what it is about.



And finally, either the most or least gratifying thing you will read all week:  my son’s 4th grade teacher sent me this artifact from his recent classroom political campaign:


Okay, so he doesn’t even know how to spell his own middle name, but that’s actually not a bad life plan: Think hard, try to do what is right, and then just walk away.

Seven Quick Reasons the author of SGNFP is one classy dame


When I first submitted the ebook manuscript to Amazon, I got this message:

The book “The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning” you recently submitted to KDP has possible spelling errors in your converted file. Consider correcting these and resubmitting.

Here are the errors we recommend you address by correcting your manuscript:


That advice, I did not take.



If you order it new, full price, from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from the publisher, you can get it for under $10.  But if you are really into taking advantage of those special financing offers, you might want to snap up this deal:

My cart is eligible! I feel so privileged.



At no point in any part of this book do I suggest that a typical example of someone who has a legitimate reason to avoid pregnancy is someone who is in a concentration camp.


The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning was written by someone who feels comfortable quoting Pope Pius XII’s Address to Italian Midwives, and then backing it up with a picture of thumbs-up Garfield.  New Evangelization FTW!*  Woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

PIC thumbs-up Garfield


If you read it, you will become qualified to weigh in on the debate of the century:  who sounds more uncomfortable?  The priest interviewer trying to delicately ask why a woman who had nine children in sixteen years is qualified to speak about family planning?  Or me, trying to answer that question while ignoring the child wailing, “Mamaaaaaaa, Boomer frew up on the tweadmiwwwwwwwwww!” outside the bedroom door?



Unlike the cover of the Kindle version, the cover of the print version no longer includes sideboob, such as this:

Instead, it includes a lock of hair the exact shape of sideboob, like this:


Simcha Fisher in print:  now a classy dame.



Alice von Hildebrand

PIC A v H before reading SGNFP

read it and said it changed her forever

PIC A v H after reading SGNFP


Simcha Fisher:  no longer a classy dame.


*For the Whatever



 Much classier dames at  Conversion Diary! Check it out.

Seven Quick Takes: Tab Dump

WordPress is being extra special today and won’t let me upload any images, so you will just have to imagine that peppy yellow 7 Quick Takes logo here.


When I banned reading at the table, my kids used to do dramatic readings of condiment labels.  The mustard was the best.

Sadly, the length of a mustard label is about as long as I am able to sustain my attention while I’m reading, lately.  If you have but attention the size of a mustard label, then that is not very good.  It means that you have all these tabs open all the time, and you are totally going to go back and read more carefully because you can see this is good stuff.  If you leave the tab open long enough, you may actually finally get around to reading the thing, and then you’re like, “Wow, that was great.  I should write about it.”  And then you have to leave the tab open for another day . . .

Anyway, here are the things I read and liked but never did write about this week:



Via John Herreid, a huge, fascinating collection of short first-hand accounts of things that happened during the Civil War.



From Eve Tushnet (DID YOU KNOW SHE IS WRITING A BOOK?), some “Snow Day Thoughts” that I loved, especially this:

 The Dutch portraits were a striking contrast to all the Spanish stuff we saw in other parts of our trip. I’m not sure I’ll ever love Rembrandt, but I did find his cloudy, lumpy-faced people very beautiful and relatable. There’s a gentleness to his work, at least in the paintings we saw in New York. The Dutch people also often looked worried or questioning. They lacked that “mask of command” intensity which the Spaniards typically had. The Spaniards were basically either in ecstasy, or staring right at you like, “AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM. *drops mic*”



Good stuff:  Let your husband love you.

[G]uys are weird. Once they fall in love with you, there’s nothing you can wear, no amount of weight you can gain, and no lack of make up that will make them see you any differently. You are their love, their bride, and after he’s been at work all day, you are a sight for sore eyes.

So instead of rolling your eyes, huffing and puffing, throwing out gut kicking comments about how he has it easy, doesn’t understand, is lazy, a jerk, whatever comes to your beautiful stressed out brain… BREATHE. Look away from your day and see the man that won your heart.

Let your husband love you.

Because he needs to love you. As much as you need to receive the love he has for you, he needs to be received. He needs to be welcomed, embraced, and loved. Even if the last thing you want is to be touched or to hear how amazing you look when you feel insecure and disgusting. Let him love you. Don’t push him away. If you do, I can guarantee there will come a day when your cold shoulders and eye rolling will have trained him to stay away. There will be a day when you will need to be hugged and need to be reminded of how amazing you are and he won’t know how to tell you.



Not one but two new free resources for art online:

the Virtual Library: An open, online repository of more than 250 Getty publications from our 45-year publishing history, available as high-quality scans to read online, or to download in their entirety, for free. 


As part of an increasingly common trend (the British Library did a similar thing at the end of last year) Wellcome Images has released tens of thousands of images from its archive into the public domain.



This is driving me crazy, because I can’t find it anywhere. I heard a story on the radio about a young oceanographer who wanted to record sound in the Mariana Trench.  So he came up with a glass sphere, half the size of a basketball, with recording equipment attached to it.  You just drop it overboard, and down, down, down it goes.  It sits there, recording, for six weeks.  Then, when it’s all done, it’s preset to jettison some weight, and slowly rises to the surface, and a strobe light starts to blink, to let you know where it is.

Isn’t that lovely?  The fellow let it go, and thought, “I may never see it again.” He had spent $50,000 developing it, and nobody really thought it would work.  He sweated out the six weeks, and when it was time to fetch it, he went out on a bridge and looked out across the dark, dark ocean.  Just a wall of black, with nothing but darkness to be seen.  He looked and looked, and there was nothing but darkness, and then the guy next to him casually says, “Ah, there it is.”

And so he got his glass ball back, full of sounds from the darkest, coldest, heaviest bottom of the sea. He went home and plugged it in to download all the sound, and went to bed. And when he woke up in the morning, it was like Christmas:  he knew that, waiting for him, was a sound that nobody on earth had ever heard before.  And he had fetched it with his glass ball.

I didn’t make this up!  I heard it! But I can’t find it anywhere.



Wow, this is turning into a long post.  Here is something I never ever considered writing about, but it made me laugh, especially after all these Real Beauty campaigns and “OMG this model didn’t have her armpit fold airbrushed out, OMG OMG this will change the world.”  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good trend, but I still liked Nine Unretouched Photos of Disney Princesses That Disney Doesn’t Want You to See



And finally the real reason Pope Francis said that the internet is a gift from God.


Phew!  Happy weekend. May all your tabs be closed.

7 Quick Takes: When I Was Little

Just for fun, let’s go way, way back to early childhood– say, age five and under.  For reference, I was born in 1974.  Here’s what I remember:

1.  My favorite outfit

I had a dress that was white on the top and knit plaid on the bottom.  It had a breast pocket that was clear plastic so you could see a picture of a lion inside.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.  Actually, I’m sure it was hideous and unbearably tacky, but I remember wearing it to Mass, which means my mother must have understood how much I loved it.

I also had not one, but two pairs of corduroy pants that were lined with plaid flannel.  My mother got that at Marsen’s Army Navy Department Store.  I made sure my cuffs were turned up so everyone knew what wonderful pants they were.


2.  Favorite disgusting kid food

On Saturdays, we had grinders at our house; which meant that there were leftover grinder rolls on Sundays.  And that meant that we could come home after Mass and sit at the table reading Archie comics and dipping hunks of rolls in orange juice or Coke.  Exquisite!

PIC Pop Tate does not approve.

3.  Earliest memory

I was walking down the front steps, and my big sister, Abby, said, “Way to go, Simmy!”  So I must have been walking with one foot on each step, instead of carefully setting both feet on a step before proceeding down.  I remember thinking something like, “Can’t stop to listen, gotta concentrate” and the zooming away, feeling powerful and brave.

I also remember getting my head stuck under the couch.  Normally, my head would fit under the couch, but I was wearing two pony tails with those plastic ball elastics.

PIC Goody beaded ponytail holders


Why don’t they sell those anymore? Those were great.  Unless you are trying to get your head out from under the couch.


4.  Biggest fear

Nothing original here. The idea of my parents dying was the worst thing I could imagine.  I remember sitting with my three older sisters, trying to come up with a loving sentiment to put in the newspaper for one of those special Mother’s Day pages.  My contribution was, “Happy Mother’s Day. I hope you don’t die too soon.”


5.  Favorite book

Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever

I liked the cartoony stories full of dumb crooks, Lowly Worm, and crazy detailed diagrams of every possible item of clothing a rabbit could own, and such, but I was completely captivated by the more realistic illustrations — the ones of the baby bear who rode on his father’s shoulders, the bunny who shopped in a candy store, the hedgehog who found a perfect apple in the snow and brought it home for his wife.  Gorgeous, and a paradise of warmth and security.

Plus, this book is long.  I felt like I could keep reading it forever and never run out of nice things.


6.  Secret desire  

The living room, I thought, would be an earthly paradise if only the floor slanted down from the walls toward the center, and the bottom were covered with pillows and toys, so you could just slide and play, slide and play all day.  (Now that I am an adult, our living room is strangely like this, except it only slants one way, there are apple cores, rolls of toilet paper that the dogs chewed up, broken Christmas ornaments, and missing cell phone chargers mixed in with the pillows and toys.  It does not feel like paradise, per se.)


7.  Earliest dream I can remember

I was eating a banana, when he suddenly got mad, became enormous, and ate me.

PIC banana biting man


First one to say “Calling Doctor Freud” is out.  (More banana art here.)
Now your turn!

Favorite Outfit
Favorite Disgusting Kid Food
Earliest Memory
Biggest Fear
Favorite Book
Secret Desire
Earliest Dream you can remember 

And don’t forget to check out Conversion Diary for the other Seven Quick Takes.  Happy Friday, everyone!


Well, dog #2 is home with the Fishers.  As I write, Boomer is happy and contented, hasn’t ripped anyone’s throat out, dashed in front of an oncoming truck, or swallowed the dining room whole.  He is just placidly trundling around the house, mildly observing the kids as they hurl their bodies at him.  He is a one-year-old brindle English Mastiff, and was raised with three little kids and another English Mastiff.  His dog pal was older and died, and that’s why he needed a new home: he was just lonely while his people were away all day.

1.  He came with an electric fence system, which is wonderful and amazing.  These always sounded barbaric to me.  I was imagining a paranoid, cringing animal getting zapped constantly; but actually, it’s no big deal.  We plugged in the central unit in the hallway near the back door and set the perimeter size.  When he wants to go out, we put the special collar on, and off he goes.  It buzzes and beeps to warn him that he’s getting too close to the perimeter, so he just goes, “Nope” and turns around.  So far, so good!  I still get nervous when I see him bounding toward the road, but he stops when he gets to the boundary.

2.  His head is e-nor-mous.

It’s just begging for a derby, or possibly — what do you call it, one of those squashy hats that urchins selling newspapers would wear.

3.  Probably we wouldn’t have chosen the name “Boomer,” although it does suit his ponderous ways.  I just can’t shake the memory of a Florence King essay which featured a lesbian and her large and hearty partner named, you guessed it, Boomer.  Oh well, it’ll pass.

4.  The kids keep saying in a wondering voice, “He’s not biting me at all!”  Although they loved Shane, we just could not break him of mouthing on the kids.  He just couldn’t get it through his head that we didn’t want to be chewed on.  He thought it was hilarious, even when he drew blood, and it was a constant, serious aggravation for all of us; and honestly, some days, I felt like there was an enemy living in our house.  It’s very hard to be good to an animal who is hurting your kids, even if it’s minor and unintentional.  So Boomer’s  non-bitey ways are a big, big, BIG big big relief.  Boomer is older, he’s fixed, and he’s just not a spaz.  He doesn’t even try to steal the baby’s food.  We got to eat dinner without (a) having our food stolen or (b) hearing whining and screaming and frantic pawing at the door the entire time we were eating.  It’s kind of like paradise.

Watching Curious George with his best friends in the whole world (a.k.a. some kids he met less than 24 hours ago)

5.  I couldn’t figure out what he reminds me of, but it suddenly hit me:  a heraldic lion.  Or, a Samurai mask.  Or something on a totem pole from the Pacific Northwest.  Or, I don’t know what!  I guess he just looks like a dog.  Benny (age 2) saw him and said, “A bear!”  There is something almost stylized about him — maybe because he is so ridiculously muscular, but he doesn’t actually do anything.  He will charge around for a while outside and make some noise, but then he wants to come in and sit on his blankie.  Yeah, kind of like this:

PIC Ferdinand smelling flowers


He also has these completely gratuitous stripes, where are clearly only there to make him fancy.  (Actually, they make him almost invisible in the woods.  Very tricky!)

6.  The only thing is, he’s spent most of his life on a rural country road,where it was kind of a big deal if a car goes by, and it was totally appropriate to bark your fool head off to warn everybody.  We, on the other hand, live on a highway.  A rather busy highway.  So, you see where this leaves us all.  But it’s okay, because we’re not constantly getting bitten. It’s amazing how much grace that buys you.

 7.  Sorry there aren’t more pictures.  Here  is another picture of Ferdinand:



So there you have it!  Dog dog dog.  Don’t forget to check out everyone else’s 7 Quick Takes – and say a quick prayer for Jennifer, who is sick and not up to writing her own quick takes.

Seven Quick Takes: With all my crooked heart


(It won’t let me load up the image for some reason.)


This week has been an experiment to see whether two rather sedentary adults can accomplish the work of five strong men, sleeping an average of four non-consecutive hours per night, and sustained by little more than beer, deli ham, and Laffy Taffy:

(Oh, so the answer is:  “Yes, but unnnnnghhhhhhhh.”)

So here are seven things I never got around to blogging about:


Maybe someday, if we need a house, we will just print one up.  I was going to say something about how such houses would be lacking in the charm that only traditional stick-built homes can afford, but then I looked around and, yeah.  Charm.  We once hired a guy to replace our front door, because whoever designed our house graduated Magna Cum Stupido from the Dr. Suess Academy of Ridiculous Architecture.  After watching him struggle with the angles for over an hour, I apologized to him for how crookedy it all was.  “Aw, that’s okay,” he said.  “Anyone can work on a straighthouse!”   So, that’s why we live here.  W. H. Auden would approve.


Probably everybody’s seen this already, but my kids got a kick out of this Star Wars bloopers reel:



Here’s a thought-provoking post that uses that odious “What’s Your Excuse?” meme as a springboard for some even more interesting ideas about the “self-improvement culture” and what health really means.  Long but fascinating.



Quickie:  The reality of what food stamps cost all of us



I suppose you’ve already met the worst person in the world.  I’m happy to report that, when we went trick-or-treating last night, there was no visible judgment from anyone, even though we had three teenaged trick-or-treaters and one baby trick-or-treater.  (And yes, the candy really was for her.  Although she shared it with the dog, who has a special weakness for lollipops.)

We also saw zero (0) sexy costumes.  Probably because it was cold and rainy, but really!  Three cheers for the backlash!

Of our own costumes, we took very few non-terrible pictures, but here are a few of my kids:

Ash from Army of Darkness:

The kid who went from door to door saying “Alms for the bodiless” instead of “trick or treat”:

A puppy, who wore this beloved costume for four months nonstop last year, even through the sweltering heat, because of reasons very much like this:

Here is our weeping angel getting ready:

Her finished costume got mixed reviews, mainly because (a) it turns out it’s hard to spraypaint feathers, maybe because they are, oh yeah, designed to be moisture repellent; and (b) we spent six weeks planning and about twelve minutes actually executing.

We also had a cat fairy, River Song, and 2D from Gorillaz (because we are the family your mother warned you about).  The baby was “Baffled Two-Year Old Who Fell Asleep in the Car on the Way Home from School and Continued Sleeping Until It Was Time to Go Trick-or-treating, So We Just Put a Fluffy Scarf on Her and It Was Cute” girl.  Oh, and a princess:

Sorry the pics are so dark. We’re getting thunderstorms here, and if I delay posting this any longer (to lighten up the pics), I’m going to lose my internet.  You get the general idea.  Lotsa candy, happy night.  We’re going to watch The Birds andSigns with the older kids, as part of our prolonged weekend of spookiness.


God bless this amazing young woman protecting an apparent neo-nazi from a mob:

There were shouts of “Kill the Nazi” and the man began to run – but he was knocked to the ground. A group surrounded him, kicking him and hitting him with the wooden sticks of their placards.

Mob mentality had taken over. “It became barbaric,” says Thomas.

“When people are in a crowd they are more likely to do things they would never do as an individual. Someone had to step out of the pack and say, ‘This isn’t right.’”

So the teenager, then still at high school, threw herself on top of a man she did not know and shielded him from the blows.

“When they dropped him to the ground, it felt like two angels had lifted my body up and laid me down.”



And finally:  Hundreds of proofs of God’s non-existence and counting!

Don’t forget to check out Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog for the rest of the Seven Quick Takes.  And, because I am special, I saw the cover of Jen’s new book, and yes, it is magnificent, and perfect.