I have always depended on the blindness of strangers. A contest!

Weh-heh-hell, it was bound to happen.  As I mentioned, we got a puppy a few months ago, and have spent the summer training him.  This morning on our front porch, we found a copy of a children’s book called Orville:  A Dog Story.   Written inside the cover was this note:

Here is a wonderful story of a dog, passed on to you with love.

When you are done reading about Orville, you may keep the book or pass it on to someone else.

From a friendly stranger

The book is about a dog who has had a bunch of different owners, all of whom had hearts of stone and did not understand dogs.  An excerpt:

There had been other people, too, whose smells gave their whole lives away, but he had left them.  There were some things he remembered (a leaky doghouse at the edge of a muddy yard, a little girl who carried a one-eyed doll), but mostly he tried to forget.

Everywhere he had ever lived involved a chain, and he had broken every one, and there were six spots on his neck where hair didn’t grow because the chains had rubbed it off.

Things just get worse from there for this canine David Copperfield, this furry Ivan Denisovich, this four-footed, slobbering, kibble-munching Job.  His new owners chain him up in the mud, giving him little more than straw and ice for sustenance.

Night after night, Orville thought about the world, and all his sadness turned angry.  He knew about the broken hearts of people, and how they failed to love and do right, and knowing what he knew just made him want to bark. He took to barking.

I kinda skimmed the rest, but after that I guess he eventually meets some orphan named Sally who has blonde curls and is just as lonely as he is, and they find solace with each other, and nobody even needs to be chained up ever again, because when there is love and understanding, there are no chains . . .

and if Orville had found a harmonica

(N.B.:  This is still a dog we’re talking about.)

and if he’d known what a harmonica was, he would have picked it up and given it a toot, just like that.

Just like that, indeed.  If someone had given our dog a harmonica, he would have gobbled it up and then frantically galloped around the yard with a musical butt for the next week, just like that.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Why, you may ask, did someone give us this book?  What crimes against doghood did we commit, to earn this gentle rebuke, with the nice pictures for kids, like this one:

We racked our brains, and this is what we came up with:

Sometimes we tie him up. On a sixty-foot lead, with a trolley. For ten minutes or less, by the clock. We do this when he is in one of those moods where he is so wildly in love with us that he just can’t help devouring us.  We feel that it’s important to instill a strict No-Devouring policy in him now, while he is still only about forty pounds of exuberant muscle, because within a year, he will be tall enough to eat off the top of the refrigerator.  Did I mention that he is half German Shepherd, half Great Dane?  Did I mention that he spends 25% of his life sleeping on the couch, 25% of his life eating the baby’s food while she laughs and tries to lick him, 25% of his life pooping or watching someone else clean up his poop, 24% of his life playing wild chasing and wrestling and tickling games with nine children who adore him, and 1% of his life tied up?

Anyway, back to our cruelty.  When he’s tied up for five or ten minutes by the clock, he barks for a while, then he lies down.  We peek out the window to see if he’s learned his lesson, and then we rush out and shout, “WHO’S A GOOD DOG? ARE YOU A GOOD DOG?” and hug him we give him a bacon-flavored treat.

Diabolical, isn’t it?

Well, I’ll tell you, we’ve learned our lesson.  I’m never going to tie up our precious pup again.  If he decides he wants to chew on our faces, we’re going to let him, becauselove!!!1!  We are also planning on buying the poor guy his own harmonica, because you have to admit, that would be entertaining.

Also, I’m going to take our benevolent stranger’s advice and pass the book along.  Who wants it?  Tell me your most irritating or outrageous “interfering stranger” story in the comment box, and the best one wins a slightly chewed-up copy of Orville:  The Dog Who Loved Too Much.


Girls Cannot Give Consent


Even if she puts on lipstick and arches her eyebrow.

In the third world, they stone a girl to death for being raped.  In the United States, we just give her rapist and de facto murderer a slap on the wrist, and reassure the world that she was asking for it.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Cherice Morales was fourteen when her 49-year-old teacher began to rape her.  Three years later, she killed herself. The reason her story is in the news is because her rapist, Stacey Rambold, got 30 days in jail for the rapes.

After Morales killed herself, Rambold was supposed to complete a sex offender treatment program, but he didn’t.  His case was revived when it was revealed that he was, among other offenses, having unsupervised visits with minors.  His sentencing judge, Judge G. Todd Baugh, who never met the victim, said that she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold was, and that she was “older than her chronological age.”  “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape like you see in movies,” he said.  (What kind of movies are you watching, your honor?)

Yesterday, after there was an outcry, the judge apologized for his statements about Morales.  He says that he doesn’t know what he was trying to say, and that his statements are not relevant to the sentencing.  But he isn’t rescinding the sentencing, either.  Thirty days is what the man gets, minus one day already served.

In this raw and profane piece in xo jane, a woman who suffered repeated statutory rape starting at age 13, reminds us why there are laws about statutory rape in the first place:

The fact is, a 14-year-old girl may be capable of agreeing to sex with a 49-year-old man, but she doesn’t have the emotional and mental maturity to consent.  I was 25 before I realized that every man I’d slept with as a teenager was a pedophile. It seemed to me that since I’d courted the attention, that I was fully culpable. What teenager believes she is not mentally or emotionally capable of full consent? I thought I was an adult, although when I look at the picture of myself from the time period above, I see a child.

I thought I was the exception for these men, the girl so precocious and advanced that it superseded social norms. I thought that I was “older than my chronological age.”

Well, what do you expect from the modern, secular world, right?  What do you expect from a culture that simultaneously glorifies and degrades human sexuality?  Of course you’re going to have needy girls and lecherous men.  Of course there will be suffering and heartache, and innocents will suffer and predators will go free.

But surely we Catholics know better than that, yes?  Surely the Church on earth, imperfect as she is, is a safe haven for the young and vulnerable.

Well, just yesterday I ran afoul of a prominent Catholic writer, a professor who often works with college students.  The last time I talked to him when he said in public that the way to deal with a teen mom who’d given birth at age fourteen is to tell the “slut” to “keep her legs closed.”

No long ago, I was speaking to a Catholic priest about how difficult life seemed when I was a teenager, and he went into a long reverie about the teenage girls that cross his path.  “Those short skirts, that heavy eye makeup—” he said . . . “Ohh, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

Think rapists come from nowhere?  Think they would dare to do what they do, if it were not for men like these?  You don’t have to be a rapist to be part of the problem.  All you have to do is make sure we all remember that the girl is to blame.  No matter how young she is, the girl is always to blame.

  • It’s her fault because she knows how to look like a woman (even though she’s not).
  • It’s her fault because she wears padded bras and skanky clothing (even though her body is tender and unfinished on the inside).
  • It’s her fault because she knows all the moves (because she’s been trained since toddlerhood to writhe to a beat, because that’s what makes the adults in the house point the camera at them).
  • It’s her fault because she works hard to look sexy (even though she really only wants to look pretty, and sexy is the only pretty she’s ever been shown).
  • It’s her fault because she’s loud and dirty because she knows it gets her something (and she knows that something is better than nothing).

It’s her fault because she’s learned that she has power, and she does wield it (because the only time men speak to her is to say two things, “Do what I tell you to do” and “I want you.”  If you were a lonely girl, which would you rather hear?).

The xojane writer tells us,

[I]t doesn’t matter if a young girl is saying yes, it’s an adult man’s job to say no.

And she’s not just talking to Rambold and other men who happen to have a thing for young girls.  She’s talking to all adults who should know better:  the judge, the defense attorney, the professors, the priests, the therapists, the school principles, the combox snipers, men and women.  She’s speaking to us.  To me.

What do I say when I meet a young girl in trouble?  What do I see when a teenage girl sashays by in skintight jeans, made up like a porn star?  Do I see a girl?  Or do I grimace and avert my eyes from just another young slut who’s out to ruin the world?

What do we tell girls, besides, “Do what I tell you to do?”  Do we tell them, “You are still young”?  Do we tell them, “Stand behind me, and I will protect you”?  Do we tell them that there is still hope, there is a way to get love and attention without being used?  Or do we tell the girls that it’s their fault, always their fault?

I don’t want to be the background music for the song and dance of the likes of Rambold and Judge Baugh, who say that there is no such thing as innocence.  Keep on saying it, and it will come true.

photo credit: Cat Eyes via photopin (license)

This post originally ran in 2013. I’m reposting it in light of recent conversations about Maria Goretti.


Five Mostly Visible Favorites


Well designed hair jewelry!  We are one hairy family. Katrina Burbank was kind enough to send me a few of the lovely hair do dads – a Flexi Clip and a beaded headband — that she sells through Lilla Rose Hair Jewelry.  Honestly, I was skeptical at first, especially about the flexi clip.  It’s pretty, but it looked hard to use and too small and heavy to stay in my kids’ thick, fine hair.  I also thought the headband looked uncomfortable.

Nope!   Wrong on both counts.  The headband has a hidden elastic band with an adjustable buckle, so it stays put without being too tight

She has dibsed this one for her first day of kindergarten.

and the flexi clip kinda just snapped itself into place and stayed put.  Dummy proof, which is what I need.  My four-year-old climbed up and down an entire mountain and it didn’t even slide around. Both pieces are lovely and well-designed, and the girls and I have been taking turns wearing them.  Thanks, Katrina!


A message of genuine tolerance. Hooray, the pro-life COEXIST sticker has its own website!

I have this sticker on my van, and you know it’s working because I haven’t run over anyone in months.  Check out Isa-Life Productions.  Gosh, I would love to see more of these in traffic.


An easy, cheapish, and tasty dinner!  Budget Bytes’ Easy Sesame Chicken.

It really was easy, and more than half the family liked it, which is more than I ever hope for.  I even substituted veg oil for sesame oil, regular vinegar for rice vinegar, and powdered ginger for fresh, and it was still yummy.  I was afraid I’d have to coat and dredge and cook each piece of chicken separately before adding the sauce, but you just mix it up with the coating and dump it in the pan, and it cooks up nicely.  And you guys, it turned out just like the picture.


Free pizza!  Pizza Hut is still doing that Book It program, where your kids can “earn” free pizzas by reading books.  We did this while we were homeschooling (and then ate our pizza in a nice quiet restaurant while everyone was still in school, ha ha).  They even have a special form for homeschoolers, so you can enroll your kids without having to make up a name for your school.


Our fabulous new couch!  Here is my daughter testing it out:

Heh.  What happened was, last week I threw our old couch out in a fit of righteous indignation.  This was satisfying; but, on the other hand, we now had no couch.  So I saw one at the Salvation Army for $40 and paid for it, to be picked up the next day, because my van is in the shop, even though not all of the bolts had fallen off the wheel yet.

This morning, I dragged my husband out of bed and we went with his station wagon to pick it up.  I told the kids to clear a path so we could get through, and to clean the living room, and get ready for our EXCITING NEW COUCH!   Of course when we got there, the store was closed, so we had to hang around in the other thrift shop next door.  They had a Fireproof DVD for only $3, but my husband claimed he “didn’t have three dollars,” which is, of course, why we need this movie so badly!  But whatever, I guess I can hold this marriage together all on my own.

Finally the Salvation Army opened, we backed up the car, loaded up the cushions, carried out the couch, and guess what?  It didn’t fit in the car.  So we gotta go back.

At this point, I was feeling a little downhearted, because how frickin hard is it to buy a used couch, and I can’t even do that, and the kids are going to be disappointed, etc. etc.  So my husband says, “Should we bring in an invisible couch?”

So that’s what we did when we got home.  As the kids looked on, we opened up the back, carefully eased out an apparently very heavy nothing, hefted it up to the porch, flipped it sideways, wedged it through while panting and grunting a lot, almost dropped it on my toe a few times, and shoved it into place.  Then we invited them to sit on it.  Five of them looked disgusted, and one started crying.  Ha ha, what a good joke!  Oh well. I thought it was funny, anyway.  We’ll get the couch tomorrow, if the van is done.  Maybe I should just get an invisible van.


Two in High School

Wah, my daughter just left for her first day of high school, and I forgot to tell her she looked pretty.  Well, it’s only a half day, and she seemed like she knew it, anyway.  Tomorrow I’ll give both girls a blessing before they leave.  (The other kids don’t start school until next week!)

And for everyone they meet, here’s some rules (courtesy of an amazing blog, Ask the Past)

Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation.
Leipzig University Statute (1495)



Shameful, probably illegal

Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director, pro-life activist, and founder ofAnd Then There Were None, posted this on Facebook:

We just found out today that a former Planned Parenthood employee, who is now working with ATTWN, was fired from her new job today simply because “she used to work at Planned Parenthood.” We guess someone higher up found out about her former employer and didn’t want her there anymore. We are working with one of our attorneys on this situation. She was not given a good explanation except to say that it wasn’t her performance…just her past employment.
People often say to me, “I just don’t understand what makes it so difficult to leave the abortion industry. What’s the big deal? Why don’t they just quit?” This is why. There is a lot of discrimination against former abortion workers…even if they are now prolife. Please pray for this woman, as she is very upset about this and now looking for another job.
If you have any PERSONAL job leads in the St. Louis area, or if you own a business and can help, please email karen@attwn.org.
I suppose it’s possible that the apparent discrimination is based on something more substantial than just spiritual snobbery.  If she had been, for instance, directly responsible for a PP clinic that was closed for health violations, or that has been charged with massive fraud, I could understand her new employer’s distress.
But maybe her former boss really is a pro-lifer who thinks that anyone who has ever been involved with abortion — whether as a mother, a family member, a medical worker, or anyone else — is unclean, untouchable, unforgivable.
If so, shame.  I know this attitude exists within the pro-life community, although I think it’s a small, noisy minority.  Most pro-lifers understand that “more joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.”  (Luke 15:7)  We need people who understand the industry, who can give us first-hand information about how it operates.  And most of all, we need to be on the side of life, always, and that includes helping the abortion industry’s refugees find a way to make an ethical living.

The Parts Readers Skip

Gee, I’ve been educated a lot this week about what writing is for — about what writers ought to be able to get away with, because they’re crafting an underappreciated genre called a persuasive essay; or because we gots to fight against the Twitterification of America with its puny, shrunken 140-character-wide brainspan; or because sometimes meandering and hemming and hawing are illustrative of a human experience and are therefore not only excusable but relevant, even unto 9,000+ words.

Hey, you know what? I never liked Montaigne, either.  I read enough to get my college degree

and then I donated all my Montaigne to the library book sale some other poor liberal arts sophomore can admire ol’ Michele’s finger sniffing ways.  As for me and my house, I will take notes on the first sixteen pages and then fake the rest.  I’m the reader; I get to decide what I want to read.  I push the boundaries of my tastes often enough that I can trust myself to occasionally say, “This stinks” — and I can still sleep at night.

Have you ever read anything by Elmore Leonard?  I haven’t.  Whether it’s any good or not doesn’t actually matter, because his rules for writing are fan-effing-tastic.

Best of all, I like #10:  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Think about that for a second.  It seems so obvious; and yet it’s so obvious that so many writers simply don’t do this.  They don’t think about the audience at all.  They don’t worry about being engaging.  They just worry about this exquisite river of ideas which pours forth from their precious mindspring.

Well, guess what, Mr. Tappy Tappy?  Nobody owes you a reading.  You’re not writing for myself. You already know what you think, and you already care about you ideas.  Everybody else?  Why should they?  You have to earn it.

I don’t always work hard, God knows.  But when I think have something important to say, I do work really hard to be clear, to make my writing engaging, to make my points easy to understand, and to pay the reader back handsomely if he has to make an effort to follow what I’m saying. He’s the reader; he gets to decide what he wants to read.  And the minute I forget that, that’s when my writing gets shitty.

So I work.  And then, if people still don’t like what I wrote, I have three choices:

1. I can say, “The hell with you.  I did my best, and if you don’t like it, then goodbye to you and farewell to thee.”

2.  I can say, “Uh oh, a lot of people didn’t understand what I meant, either because I dropped the ball, or because this is a tricky topic.” And then I write a follow up piece.  (This seems to be what Joseph Bottum is saying.)

Or, 3. I can whine and moan about how dim everyone is, and how brave I am, and how hard it is to put myself out there day after day, booey hooey hoo, and now they’re even saying mean things about me, even though I said something that I knew would upset people!  (Oh look, it’s my paycheck in the mail, and it’s really big this month, because I was Controversial!)  What was I saying?  Oh, yeah, booey hooey hooooo . . .

(Sometimes I indulge in #3.  But at least I feel bad about it.)

Every so often, someone writes to me asking for advice about writing.  I used to try to be helpful, but now I just try to talk them out of it.  Why?  Because they seem to think it’s just a matter of finding the right door, behind which there are throngs of people just waiting and wishing and hoping that their savior writer will come to tell them what to think.

That’s not how it goes.  How it goes is, you probably have nothing new to say.  Nothing.  The best you can possibly hope for is that you can find a slightly new way to present something that will remind a few people of what they already know.

And most of the people who read what you say will miss your point entirely, or read what they want or expect to read.  Or they won’t care, and won’t even read it, but they will insult you anyway.  They will demand that you explain yourself, even though you already did.  They will be, in a word, stupid.

And you know what?  That’s their problem.  It’s not yours.  You have two jobs:  to try as hard as you can to make people want to read what you have to say, and then to forget all about it once you’re done.

Think you can hack it?  Think you can tear hours out of your schedule and pour it into the keyboard, press “publish,” and then just get on with the rest of your life, dealing with dinner and diapers and bad drivers and no milk for breakfast and a million other things that are really important, and yet have nothing to do with you and your precious idea butterflies?  Okay, then have at it!

But for crying out loud, unless you really are Montaigne (or Gay Talese, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Robert Louis Stevenson, or Benjamin Franklin, or Mark Twain– or if, at very least, you understand why these guys are great), do it in fewer than 9,000 words.