Tag Archives: parenting

Beware of The Stranger

Our children are always interested in what we are reading on the list.  Back in the early days my husband and I were happy to regale them with both major plot points and entertaining details from the selections.  Over the past few novels this has gotten increasingly more difficult.

Their questions about The Stranger were no exception.  I dodged the, “What’s it about?” with a simple, “It’s not my favorite.”  In our house that sentence translates to, “Yuck, gross, this is awful, blech.”  It’s a statement that sometimes hovers around mealtime.  And the boys saw right through my discourse.

“Why don’t you like it, Mom?”

Still filibustering, I answered that it wasn’t exactly the novel that I disliked, so much as the main character who was telling the story.  I didn’t think he was a very nice guy.

I should have known that this would lead to an inquiry about what made him “not a nice guy.”  My mind raced.  Do I tell them that he didn’t even know exactly when his mother died?  Do I mention his distraction at her funeral?  Should I tell them about his hook-up with a girl right after he got back into town?

That was all wildly inappropriate, but I had to say something.

“He doesn’t care that his neighbor is mean to a dog.”

The shock and horror in their reactions makes me think that none of them will be willing to pick up Camus for a long, long while.  I just wish I’d had the same warning.

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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in The Stranger


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So Long, Farewell, Let’s Try to Stay Alive

Boys GoodbyeDespite the nearly 650 pages we spent with her, there are not a lot of occasions for me to relate to Isabel’s life. But there was this touching goodbye scene with those wily boys of her sister’s.

Isabel watched the train move away; she kissed her hand to the elder of her small nephews, a demonstrative child who leaned dangerously far out of the window of the carriage and made separation an occasion of violent hilarity, . .

This is exactly what it’s like saying goodbye to my sons, and I don’t think my sister would mind me adding, my nephews, too.  It’s demonstrative.  It’s dangerous.  It’s violent.  It’s hilarious.

It’s less “Goodbye” and more “Let’s not extend this visit any longer by adding a trip to the ER.”


Posted by on February 21, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Brought to You by the Letter Q

Classic Word of the Dayquerulous – adj.  in a complaining, peevish, whining manner

Classical Usage:  Mr. Touchett is still hanging on and keeping me entertained in Chapter XVIII when he suggests that Ralph will need his full inheritance to take care of his mother.  Ralph  disagrees that she will need it, and suggests that Mrs. Touchett will probably outlive him.  His father replies, “Very likely she will; but that’s no reason – !” Mr. Touchett let his phrase die away in a helpless but not quite querulous sigh and remained silent again.

Classically Mad Usage:  Just this morning I found opportunity to use this word.  The word was exactly what I needed to complete an alliteration directed at my offspring, “It would be quite nice if you would quit quarrelling and being querulous and give Mommy a little quietude.”

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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Pull Up Those Athletic Shorts

foppish – adj.  elegantly and fashionably dressed

Classical Usage:  The first of several times this word is used by my translator is at the beginning of Chapter II of Part One.  The owner of the tavern where Raskolnikov meets Marmelodov “decends a flight of stairs from somewhere, his foppish black boots with their wide red tops appearing first.”

Classically Mad Usage:  These Russian translations are notorious for inconsistent spellings, missing letters, additional letters and the like.  That’s why I figured this world must have an optional ‘l’ and probably meant loosely fitting and frumpy.  I guess I’m going to have to stop referring to my sons’ summer wardrobe as foppish.


Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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Worse yet? Toe jam.

greengages – a small greenish plum-like fruit

Classical Usage – In the early days of their marriage Emma knew how to run her house.  She wrote the bills, entertained guests, and whipped up pretty things to eat:  She would arrange greengages in a pyramid on a bed of vine leaves;  she served her jellies not in their jars but neatly turned out on a plate . . .

Classically Mad Usage:  Pyramids, vine leaves, jelly on plates???  I’m just happy if my son isn’t eating it by the fistful out of the refrigerator.  True story.

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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Madame Bovary


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Ask Miss Ophelia

Dear Miss Ophelia,

I’m a thirty-something-ish mother of five.  My children and I seem to be suffering from a severe case of shiftlessness.  Our house is a great mess and we often struggle to get all our work done.  I realize that this inability to accomplish what we set our hands to places us as objects of your entire contempt, yet I write to you today not so that you may take on a stony grimness towards us, but because your forte lies in doing.

We hope your level of action can help us find our path of duty.  If you could just tell us what we ought to do, I’m sure that we will be able to restore order.  It has come to my attention that conscientiousness is key to your shiftfull, (may I call it that?), way of life, and I believe it is something that lacks in ours.

In an effort to abide by your principles, I’ve already taken up the habit of knitting to pass those times when my hands seem idle.  I like to carry a little project in my purse to fill the inconveniently still moments in line at the grocery store, or while I wait for a traffic light to turn green.  Yet, sometimes my brain finds forms of work, like folding laundry and doing dishes, to be idle and so before I know it my hands are reaching for the knitting.  Have you experienced this problem?  How do you overcome it?

I hear you also have a great deal of expertise in cleaning out junk drawers.  We have a nasty one in our kitchen.  And another on my desk.  There might be a drawer in my bathroom that could use some attention as well.  And, well, pretty much the entire basement could be viewed as a drawer if looked at in the right light.  I am a bit worried though, your work with Dinah leads me to believe that you don’t approve of old shoes and hymnals in with pantry items.  I just want to warn you up front – this might be a difficult obstacle for me to overcome.

On the other hand, we all look forward to your lessons on bed-making for the children.  This morning my youngest threw out every blanket in his crib, including the fitted sheet and mattress cover.  It’s fair to say that he’s ready, and excited.

My husband anxiously awaits your reply.  If we haven’t heard anything soon he’ll be boarding a slow boat to Vermont to fetch you, that is, if I can get his suitcase closed.


Shiftless in Michigan


Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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Second Verse, Same as the First

obstreperous – adj. noisy, unruly, difficult to control

Classical Usage:  Aunt Chloe and Uncle Tom have company at their home, and the boys are acting up.  Aunt Chloe has had enough, “‘O! go long, will ye?’ said the mother, giving now and then a kick, in a kind of general way, under the table, when the movement became too obstreperous. ‘Can’t ye be decent when . . . folks comes to see ye?”

Classically Mad Usage:  same as above

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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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Seven Reasons to Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Her children.  Seven of them, including a set of twins, and a boy that died at 18 months.

Above all, Harriet Beecher Stowe is a mother, and certainly one who is unafraid to appeal to the very hearts of other mothers.  Here she is talking directly to us in Chapter 7:

If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, to-morrow morning, – if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape, – how fast could you walk?  How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom, – the little sleepy head on your shoulder, – the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?

As I read this, I had to resist the urge to strap my babies in the jogging stroller, take the school-aged boys by the hand, throw the preschooler onto my back and head out for a training run.  Christine, bring the Garmin – I want to know how fast and far I can go to protect my children.


Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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Like You’ve Never Read it Before

Once upon a time there was a whale named Moby-Dick.

He was cut-out to be the roughest, toughest, sneakiest whale in all the seven seas.

There was also a ship, known as the Pequod.  Its daunting black color and triple masts made it a formidable foe to all the blubber afloat the ocean waves.

On a beautiful day the Pequod unfurled her sails, while underneath the surface of the water loomed an underestimated danger.

Watch out, Pequod!

And just like that, the fierce Moby Dick came up fast and furious under the great ship.

And the rest is history.  Well, fiction, I guess.


Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Whale of a Tail

Mostly because increasing the cute factor of our blog seems like a good idea, I present to you this picture from my archives:

But also, because I think Melville could have benefited from a similar technique.

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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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