Monday, December 31, 2007

off to find Prince Rillian

I check into the hospital tomorrow. I told Adam, "You take Bess and Gamgee, I'll take the baby girls, and I'll meet you at the other side."

I decided today, on my last trip to the hospital for daily monitoring, before starting the 24 hour monitoring tomorrow, that this is why you ought to read to your kids. My parents read the Narnia chronicles to me and my siblings when I was a kid, and my husband's parents read them to him. Because of that (and later finds like LOTR, and yet earlier foundations, like Bible stories) I feel like we know how to think about all of this.

It's not happening to us, we are happening to it. We are choosing to accept the charge laid on us, we're choosing to obey. It's like Frodo agreeing to take the ring to Mordor, or like Jill and Eustace obeying Aslan and going on that long, gloomy trip across the moors with Puddleglum. Because of reading stories like those, Adam and I know that obedience is a choice, but that disobedience is no choice at all. And that being given a mission is not being given a sinecure. But that the only real life lies in taking on the burden, going on the journey, obeying your Lord.

I can't even express how much it helps to think of the next few months in those terms. But I couldn't have predicted that even a few months ago. I didn't know that those stories would ever do me as much good as they're doing me now. But now I'm grateful that our parents introduced us to Lewis and Tolkein as kids (and that Lewis and Tolkein were introduced to Spencer and his ilk as kids).

On a more concrete note: I don't know if I'll have internet access at the hospital, so I might not be posting for awhile.

On a yet more practical note: please pray for us, for me there, for the safety of our unborn babies, for my husband and kids at home, and for the people who are so kindly coming over to take care of the kids while I'm away. (Neither house nor kids abandoned, praise God!)

And I'll see you on the other side!

peace of Christ to you,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Planned, Crockpotted and Frozen

One of the blogs I subscribe to is Get Rich Slowly. Today I found a few old threads on eating cheaply. While the article is good, the string of 100 or so comments is even better. I love reading people's ideas on how to do better things we all have to do anyway, things like eating!

So today I've been mulling over ideas for meals, and rueing the fact that I can't just sit down and menu plan, because I'm not going to be home to cook next week! Nonetheless, there's nothing that says that you can't plan ahead, so I'm trying to think up a strategy for cooking after the babies and I all come home again.

I love menu planning. I love making good food - veg and omni - full of good spices and good produce. I love filling up my cart at the ranch market with a ton of produce, more than you'd think our family could eat in 2 weeks, paying only $25 for it, and knowing that we're going to eat it all, because I know exactly what meals all of it is going to go into. Yes, we will use 15 onions and those four bunches of cilantro. The jalapenos? I have a plan for them. That giant bag of potatoes? You haven't lived till you've had my potato chickpea curry (really! ask my husband!).

So, I don't want to give up menu planning or the ranch market, but I am thinking that streamlining my food-prep process even further would be good because, well, I'm going to be (Lord willing and Christ tarry) taking care of two toddlers and two newborns all day (and night) when I get home.

Here are my ideas, and I'd love to have any of your brilliant suggestions too!

1) For the past month and a half or so, I've been doubling every meal I make and freezing half of it, so that my husband won't have to cook while I'm in the hospital. What if I kept doing this after I come home again? That would cut my cooking time about in half - I'd only have to cook every other night. But we wouldn't have to eat the same thing two nights in a row, because we'd have a freezer stash to draw on. So if we had corn sausage chowder one night (fresh), and we didn't eat the frozen portion till two weeks later, well, we'd be just about ready for it again. I really like this idea. Doubling is a bit more work, but not as much as making the same meal twice, not nearly.

2) Right now we usually eat for lunch whatever we had for dinner the night before. But what if I planned lunches too? Not a different thing every day, but one thing per week. Say, a big pot of bean soup and a couple loaves of rosemary foccacia? We could have soup and bread for lunch every day, and that would mean more dinner leftovers in the freezer. Lunch meals would have to each be cheap, delicous, and probably vegetarian. Here are the ones I've thought of:

-the aforementioned potato-chickpea curry,
-bean soup and bread,
-bread and hummus,
-homemade marinara over pasta with cheese,
-bean and cheese burritoes,
-lentil soup and corn muffins.

It'd be pretty easy to do a big batch of something at the beginning of the week and then just eat it all week long, especially if I did something from the freezer for dinner that night. That'd still just be making one meal that day.

So, bouyed up by visions of yummy legume creations, I went ahead and bought, with some birthday money, a cookbook I've wanted to have for a long time: Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I had it out from the library onece and loved everything I made from it (seriously: rosemary foccaccia - SOOOOOO good). I figure I'll drool over it at the hospital and make menu plans for when I get home.

So, anyone else figured out brilliant ways to make yummy, cheap, healthy food for their families? I'd love to hear about it. Maybe our comment thread can surpass the one that inspired this post!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. dinner tonight? Curried chicken in the crockpot, over rice. Mmmmm.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

baby, baby!

I went in to the hospital today for my first 1 hour monitoring session. Know what I learned? That it takes more than and hour to get an hour's worth of monitoring on two very active little girls! First one baby and then the other would slip off of the heartrate monitors, causing one nurse after another to come in and try to get them back on.

Luckily, the nurses at St J's are wonderful. I felt a bit like a celebrity, honestly, because they all knew who I was, and at least one came in just to chat! One of them told me that in the fifteen years she's worked there, they've only ever had two other cases of monoamniotic twins.

It was comforting to get to meet so many of the labor and delivery nurses, and to be reaffirmed in my belief that this hospital really has the best nurses ever (that was my impression during my stay for both my first daughter's birth and my son's). But it was also disturbing to be there for a few hours, in a patient gown, and then to get dressed again and leave, knowing that I'd just be back the next day and then the next, and then in a bit over a week, back and not leaving for over a month. Probably. So weird.

I look at the next two or three months, and want to take them all in a gulp, to get it done with. But it's too much to even think about. And God gives us grace for today, and not tomorrow. It's always today.

So, today went well. And tomorrow, He'll go with me again, and stay with my family at the same time.

I took Brother Lawrence's Practicing the Presence of God with me, and it was comforting. I take to heart his words that the best way to encounter God is just to do all the things that we would normally be doing, but instead of doing them for ourselves, we do them for Him. That means I can do this for Him, and I like that. I like the idea of getting these girls here being His business.

I've also decided that I wish the labor and delivery floor had different wallpaper. I think after six weeks I'm gonna be tired of staring at impressionistic blue and pink flowers. :)

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Why it's nice (at least sometimes) to live in SoCal

Because I can go out on a December morning and pick these in my backyard:

I know they're funny tropical flowers, brilliant colors and awkward shapes, half pretty and half grotesque, but flowers are flowers, and they've been making me smile all week. Maybe it's just 'cause when they (very rarely) got some shipped in to the sub-Arctic village where I grew up, my dad would take my mom to the store just to look at them (I remember they sold for over $50 each, and that was $50 in the 1980's!). And now I can see them out my window and in a vase in my kitchen. It just amazes me. Doesn't God make pretty things?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. what's pretty in your part of the world this time of year?

Christmas dresses (Simplicity 5827)

Despite what you might think, these aren't for the twins. They're for my oldest daughter and her cousin (they were born less than two weeks apart) for Christmas. Aren't they pretty?

I found a pattern (Simplicity 5827, if anyone else wants to make it) and really liked it, though the idea of setting in sleeves made me nervous. But I should have been more worried about the zippers; they're much harder than sleeves! And I'm afraid mine don't bear close inspection. But the dresses as a whole are really cute.

I admit, when I first envisioned this product, I saw matching velveteen dresses in red and green, with white trim. But I took my daughter with me to choose the fabric, and she was sure that bright purple embroidered batik was the way to go. :) So I let her choose the trim, and I picked the solid fabric to match.

I really enjoyed making these. It was nice to do something so home-ec-y in the middle of all this medical drama. Very grounding and involving and distracting. I think I like sewing.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, December 13, 2007

great good news

We just got the path report for my husband back this morning, and found out that the melanoma didn't go any further than the first biopsy indicated, and that means that they've completely taken it all out. In other words: he's cancer-free!

Thanks be to God!

This lifts such a huge cloud from over our family. Our baby girls are still in danger, but now we know that Adam isn't. I'm so very, very grateful.

And the girls are kicking away in my belly as I type, so they're fine right now too. :)

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Donkey Ears

Today for Advent, Bess decided that she wanted to be the donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem. So we got out the blue and pink construction paper, and made her and Gamgee each a fine set of donkey ears, attached to a headband (think something like a paper crown, only with big donkey ears instead of golden spikes). Bess was delighted and insisted on being called "Donkey" all afternoon; Gamgee left his on for a few minutes and then insisted on sitting down and tearing them apart with great intent and joy.

So, while my daughter was pretending to be Mary's donkey, we got to talk about how the holy family traveled to Bethlehem and how Jesus was born there and how He was born because He loves us and it was another good day of looking more in depth at part of the Christmas story. I think we've really caught onto something good with this Nativity role-playing thing.

Except that sometimes Bess came come out with things like this: "Mommy? I'm the donkey and I'm gonna take Mary and baby Jesus and his foster-father Joseph and carry them on my back over to the playground so they can go on the pink slides. Okay?"

I just don't remember that part from the gospels . . . but the thought of her wanting, in her donkey-role, to do something kind for Jesus and his family, is touching. May her desire to please Him grow as she grows. Amen.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

today's Advent activity: pretending to be Mary

I didn't plan today's Advent activity.

I did plan day one: on Sunday I wrapped Christmas presents with my twenty-month-old son, letting him play with one of his stocking stuffers in lieu of the scissors. I got it all done, and I'm glad I did it so early because I was horribly sore by the end of the night! I think that sitting on the floor leaning over for a couple of hours straight taping packages closed is not something very pregnant women out to do. But I'm only going to get more pregnant, so I'm glad I did it now.

On day two, we just got out a few Christmas books and read them; well, one Christmas book and an Advent book. Pretty low-key, but that was nice after day one.

Day three now . . . day three was my three-year-old's idea. Bess wanted to be Mary, and was draping her blankets around her head "to look a little bit like Mary". I was the one who thought of securing her blanket to her head with a nice, stretchy headband, and our activity for day three of Advent was born. She drafted her little brother to play Joseph, though as he wouldn't tolerate the headgear his role mostly consisted of being told by his older sister, "You're Joseph, okay?"

But you know what? Playing Mary turned out to be a GREAT Advent game. Every time she told me that she was Mary, I asked her something about the Christmas story. Who was Mary? What did she say when the angel told her what God wanted her to do? And we talked about how Mary said she'd do what God wanted her to do, and how we ought to say, "Yes, Lord!" when God wanted us to do something. And how Joseph obeyed an angel's orders too.

One of Bess' own questions was, "Why is it good to play Mary during Advent?" Well, I hadn't thought of an answer to that one, because up until today, I hadn't even considered "playing Mary" an Advent game. But here's what I came up with: "Because playing Mary gives us a chance to talk about the Christmas story, and the Christmas story reminds us of how much God loves us. He loved us so much He sent His Son to save us from our sins."

So, if you're looking for a good Advent game to play with your kids, and they're in the middle of that hyper-imaginative stage, when they're always being fairies or bus drivers or doctors, trying playing Mary for awhile instead.

Or, if you like, try what we've planned for tomorrow: playing sheep. (You know, the ones that were watched in flocks by night?) I can't wait to hear what conversations come out of that one.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 29, 2007

the twins

I'm sorry, I'm afraid this blog is becoming more baby-centered than church year centered, but right now, my biggest task from the Lord seems be be gestating (not that that's inappropriate in Advent!).

I got to see a perinatologist today, who confirmed that the twins are monoamniotic. So it looks like I am headed for a hospital stay starting just after Christmas. I'm not surprised, although she seemed to be - she had trouble believing that she couldn't find a membrane between them and kept repeating things like, "This is just so rare!" :)

The good news is that the girls look good. Nothing else is wrong with them, so if we can get them here at around 32 weeks, they have as good a fighting chance as any other preemie, and better than many (32 weeks being better than, say, 24). It was so good and reassuring to see them, so beautiful and well-formed, and curled up right next to each other, heads touching.

I feel . . . a little like I wandered into Narnia. I'm suddenly faced with this weird, impossible task, but it's an inevitable impossible task, and Aslan's set me to it, so I'm just going to do it.

Well, actually, not quite like I'm in Narnia, but like we are in Narnia. Like Adam and I and are kids are the Pevensies, all stumbled through the wardrobe together, bewildered, but willing to do what we're asked, even though it seems like it might kill us.

I don't know, I have nothing profound. Just that I can see where I am now, and I can see where I hope to be this time next year, but I can't see much in between. I know I'm gonna walk through it, but I can't even really think about it. I'm just gonna do the next thing, by God's grace.

And, you know, He's being very gracious. The hospital closest to us - a wonderful, Catholic hospital, where I delivered my first two children, can handle this pregnancy, and the girls if they come early. And my husband has a job with insurance that will cover, it looks like, all of our costs (which is HUGE). And we have family and friends nearby, wonderful people, who are willing to take on the hardship of caring for our two older children while I can't. And who will care for them lovingly and kindly - I can't even express how grateful I am to know that Bess and Gamgee will be well taken care of while I'm in the hospital. And I'll probably get to spend Christmas at home (minus an hour or two under monitoring at the hospital). And there's nothing else wrong with the girls but this. And the hard part of this pregnancy is coming at a time of the year when some of our family have time off from work. There are many, many things that could be worse; it feels like He's saying, "I am giving you this one hard thing to do, but don't worry about anything else. Just do this one thing. Just take care of these girls, while I take care of you and yours." I hope I'm hearing rightly.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

He knows

I've been reading, this week, a book called "When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets or Quads" by Dr. Barbara Luke. Unlike the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" series, Luke's book is HELPFUL. Dr. Luke runs clinics for moms of multiples, and the twins born to moms who've followed her program tend to weigh, at birth, 20% more than the average for twins.

I appreciate both the weight of her research, and the encouragement of her words. And I'm discovering tons of fascinating facts, like:
-twins develop faster in utero than singletons; they tend to be a few weeks ahead of their gestational age, developmentally, preparing them for their almost-certainly-shorter gestation.
-multiples born to moms who've given birth before gestate longer. This is because they don't have to stretch out the uterus themselves; it's already been stretched out, and they can grow faster without an un-tried uterus restricting them.
-bedrest - or at least REST, lying down - actually does do some good. It takes the strain off your heart, allowing more oxygen to circulate through your and your babies' bodies, and off of your kidneys (since they have more blood flow), allowing your body to more quickly and easily filter and eliminate fluids. Given that a twin mom sees TWICE the increase of blood volume that a singleton mom does, this is important.
-while breastmilk is great for preemies, if they're very, very premature, even breastmilk can be bad for them, because their digestive system is too immature to handle it. Weird. I've thought about immature hearts, lungs and brains, but never immature guts.

Anyway, those are just a few things I've learned recently. I feel like I'm taking a crash course on multiple pregnancies, births and childhoods!

But maybe the most helpful thing in this book is when the author talks about how parents, upon finding out that they're pregnant with multiples, go through the five stages of grief: shock, denial, anger/depression, bargaining, and acceptance/adaptation. Reading that was helpful, because I was able to look back over the last few weeks, and see that cycle at play in myself. For instance, a few hours after we first found out about the girls, I found myself sitting on a couch, feeling too shaky to stand up. I recognized that I was coming off of an adrenaline high, and later that night I cried so hard that I gave myself a real (not Braxton-Hicks-ish) contraction. (So I stopped crying, realizing, in an oddly cold-blooded moment, that I hadn't the right to cry so hard when it might hurt my babies.) Denial was the days I had myself convince that at least one, if not both of them, were going to die, and so it all didn't matter anyway. Anger and depression followed as I looked at the prison term/hospital stay ahead of me. Then bargaining: "But at least if I go do this, you can promise me they'll be okay, right?" And now, though there's still a slight hope we'll find out that they aren't sharing a sac, I'm planning my next weeks' menus so that I can double every meal between now and when I'm hospitalized, hopefully leaving my husband and oldest children with a freezer full of yummy, nutrious stuff for them to eat while I'm gone. I guess that's acceptance.

I also appreciated that Dr. Luke pointed out that new information or changes can knock you back a few steps. That explains why, after my ultrasound last week, where we again failed to find a membrane separating the girls, I felt depressed for several days. I hate the feeling of being depressed. I'm not used to it and I don't like it. But at least now I know that it's not abnormal, given the circumstances.

Anyway, I guess it's enough to say: education helps. Living each day as it comes helps. Thinking of the future only insomuch as it's today's duty to prepare for it helps. Knowing how many people there are praying for us helps. Eating well and resting because TODAY that's how I can take care of my babies helps. Enjoying being with my toddlers because today I get to be with them helps. Going on a date with my husband (go see Enchanted, it's lovely and funny!) helps. Thinking about how Jesus completely understands helps.

Actually, that last one helps a LOT. Every time I cringe at the idea of how painful the next few months will be, I remember that my Lord also - eyes wide open - walked to his own place of suffering. When I feel like the hospitalization is a prison sentence, I remember my mom's thought that it's more like a rescue mission, as the shepherd left the ninety and nine where they were safe in order to go after the one. When I wince at the idea of a c-section, I remember that the Lord knows what it is to bear scars for the sake of his children. When I think about the dark valley ahead, full of sleepless nights and tears and and terror and loneliness, I can know that my Lord doesn't just order me to go there, and won't just be with me, but has actually walked that road himself. As the friend says at the end of Lawhead's Byzantium, "He knows, Aidan. He knows."

That is my comfort. I am finally learning with my heart something I've long known with my head: that it's the Incarnation that makes suffering bearable. I don't have the answer to the problem of pain, but I know that the One who does had the integrity to bear the brunt of it himself. So if he knows, and he walked through it, I can walk through it too. But only because He's there and He knows. I feel like a little kid, who doesn't want to get my shots, but who can do anything if her dad is beside her, holding her hand. If He's there, it will be well.

Oh, but help, I don't want to do this. Thy will be done, Lord, not mine.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Link: Jesus Christ Victor

Over at Touchstone's Mere Comments, Anthony Esolen explains exactly what it means that Christ is our King, and that our King is Christ. I especially appreciate this insight on today's gospel, that of the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus:

He does not speak to Jesus man to man. He speaks to him as subject to King: "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." That can make sense only if he understands, somehow, without any theological sophistication, that Jesus is both Lord and God. He's asking Jesus not only to remember him, but to forget -- because he knows well what kind of life he has led. Only God's memory conquers the grave; only God's forgetting cancels out our wickedness. The thief's prayer is granted, and he enjoys a privilege unique in history: the only Christian to die next to Christ.

Read the rest of Mr. Esolen's essay here.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

beautiful potholders from an easy-peasy tutorial

Aren't those pretty? I made them using this tutorial, from Artsy-Craftsy Babe. It's one of the clearest tutorials I've ever done, partly because it's not very complicated, but even more because the author of the tutorial did such an excellent job of explaining and photographing each step clearly.

I'm so pleased with how they turned out - and I love how they're each made out of a simple cotton dish cloth. (And yes, one of them already has a stain - it was put to use the day after it was made!)

I found this tutorial on Sew, Mama, Sew, which is running this really cool feature all November where, every day, they are publishing a collection of links to various online sewing tutorials. One day it's children's clothing, the next bags or totes. Anyway, there's a lot of beautiful stuff, and I recommend checking it out if you're interested at all in sewing, especially sewing gifts for the holidays. (Hey, if you start this year, it might be done by next.)

I'm amazed at how much I like sewing. I always thought it would be too fussy to be enjoyable, but I was wrong, and I freely admit it. There's something very satisfying at making something you'd otherwise buy, and being able to make it exactly the way you want it.

Anyone else find any good tutorials recently?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christ the King Sunday

Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. Also, my favorite ordinary (i.e., not-a-major-feast) Sunday. And I'm not entirely sure why. The picture in my head when I think of Christ the King Sunday is a big tangle of the beginning of the second part of the Te Deum ("Thou art the King of glory, oh Christ/Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father . . .") and the Christo Pantokrator icon and the music of "Crown Him with Many Crowns" and vaguer pictures of what the last judgement will be like.

I think my affinity for the day goes back to the first time I really celebrated Lent, when I chose as my meditation for the forty days C.S. Lewis' essay "What if this Present were the World's Last Night?" and the John Donne poem from which it took its title. It's a great essay (the poem's good too) that I recommend to everyone, and Lewis made in it the point that the main two things that Christ said about His return was that He would certainly return and that we certainly would not know when, leading to the third point: because we do not know when He will return, we ought always to be doing what we ought to be doing, so that He will find us doing it when He comes back.

So, on Christ the King Sunday, I think both about the greatness of our Lord, His absolute righteousness, and the absolute obedience He expects from us.

And yet, somehow it's heartening, and not disheartening. Because He's going to come back for us, and - as one of my college professors told us - He always gives what He demands.

So Christ the King Sunday is, to me, the most comforting Sunday, because it is the one where I remember that everything is going to come right. Christ will surely come, He will judge the world, He will judge us. But, as Michael Card said, we will look into our Judge's face, and see a Savior there.

Thanks be to God!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

little girls!

Well, I got to go and see the twins again today; my mom accompanied me on this second ultrasound.

While the ultrasound tech wasn't able to find a membrane between them, meaning that they likely are monoamniotic, they are both growing well, and are about a pound each already!

So, it looks like I probably am facing hospitalization after Christmas, but the Lord holds us in His hand. And it's still possible that the perinatologist that I'm scheduled to see next week will be able to find a membrane that this technician missed. I hope so.

All the same, it was lovely to see my babies this morning.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Advent-ful Days

It was last Advent that started me on my journey to celebrate the whole church year, so while Easter (Queen of Feasts!) remains my favorite season, Advent is the one towards which I feel the most affection.

And though I don't know how this twin pregnancy will affect our celebrations (except that it probably will, somehow), I'm still beginning to get excited about December.

Last year, inspired by Madeleine L'Engle's "Twenty Four Days Before Christmas", I tried to do something to get ready for Christmas every day of Advent. It was a great way to celebrate with my then-two-year-old, and to gain opportunities to talk about the gospel with her. This year, her younger brother is old enough to join in (at least some of) the fun.

Since Advent is also the time we remember Christ's second (as well as his first) coming, it strikes me that doing something every day to celebrate the season is also a good reminder to do something every day of our lives to make ourselves more ready for His return. I like the picture of our souls as a house that we make every day more hospitable to the Holy Spirit, the same way we every day in Advent make our physical houses more festive and bright.

So, I am beginning to compose a list of Advent activities. The idea is to have twenty-five or so possibilities, and then to pick one each day, as it fits best with that day. Sundays, of course, the Advent-ful activity is attending Mass. Here's the list thus far:

-get a Christmas tree
-decorate the tree
-make snowflake cut-outs
-get out all of the Christmas books and display them together
-make cookies
-make candy for presents
-wrap presents
-write Christmas letter
-get out Advent calandar (Day 1 or 2)
-assemble Advent wreath (Day 1)
-go caroling
-get out the creche
-celebrate St. Nicholas' Day? (Dec. 6)
-attend Lessons and Carols?
-color pictures of the Nativity story
-make ornaments
-make paper-chains
-make a star for the top of the tree

And I need more. Somehow I came up with the requisite number last year, so I know I'm forgetting some good ones. I need to reread the L'Engle book!

Anyone else have some good Advent activities that I'm missing?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

a quotation on publishing from Orson Scott Card

My husband is an Orson Scott Card fan, and he told me that the afterword at the end of Card's book, "Invasive Procedures", was about writing and that I should read it, I did. And here's a short quotation from that afterword that I really liked:

"(That's what publishers do, of course - they bet thousands of dollars that the writer can actually produce a novel, and many thousands more that readers will actually buy it. And when they lose that bet, I don't see many writers taking up collections to make up their losses. That's why I don't understand the writers who get angry or resentful when publishers reject their manuscripts. It's the publishers' money, and so the publishers get to decide which horse to bet on in the race. If you're a writer and nobody bets on your manuscript, the answer isn't to whine and complain, or even to start your own race; the answer is to get another horse - to write another book or story. And another. And another, until somebody's willing to bet on one of them.)"

Smart man, no?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mind Over Matter and the Master of Matter

You know how something can happen in your life and you don't realize, till years later, what it might have been preparing you for? Why the Lord let it happen to you?

I think I'm having one of those moments; I think I know now, at least in part, why the Lord let me break my both of arms almost three years ago.

A lot of circumstances contributed to me breaking both of my arms at a karate test three years ago, and they weren't all my fault, but at least one of them certainly was: I thought I could do anything, if I only made up my mind to do it. I didn't want to be doing the test I was doing, and so I foolishly decided that the way I would get through the ordeal would be to just duck my head down and power through.

I believed the mantra "mind over matter" and had always had the impression that if I just had enough determination, I could plow right through any physical test that came my way. If I just kept going, I would get through.

Well, my bones didn't agree. I learned that day that while I have the determination to break my own arms by hitting a brick really, really hard, I do not have the power to convince the brick itself that it is softer than my bones. The brick won, my bones lost.

I learned that I might be determined, but my determination is not a match for everything it encounters. I learned that I was smaller, weaker, and more fragile than I thought I was.

That lesson is standing me in good stead now. I still have the urge, looking at this high-risk pregnancy I'm carrying, to think that by sheer determination I can carry these twins to term, I can keep their cords from tangling, I can prevent pre-term labor. I think I really would think that if I hadn't had the experience of breaking both of my arms.

But I don't think that anymore. I know that I cannot change the laws of physics (thank you, Scotty), I cannot reach my hands inside my womb and keep the blood and oxygen from the placenta flowing equally to each baby. I know my limits. I know that while there is a lot I can do to make this a healthy pregnancy, that my body might fail me, and that my babies' bodies might fail them. Our minds do not control matter, not like we wish they would.

But there is one Man who is master over matter, whose feet did not sink when he stepped out onto water, whose speech could make the dead rise, whose very touch convinced diseased flesh to transmute to whole. I cannot reach my hands into my womb and keep my babies' cords from tangling, but He can.

And so I am grateful, finally, for the nightmarish experience of disability that I went through three years ago. It was, maybe, the most dear lesson I have ever had; it cost the most. But I'm not going to ignore it. I'm going to remember that I cannot will my way through obstacles. Instead, I am going to lean on the one who can say "be so" and it is so. I am going to lean on Jesus. He is the Master of Matter. Including the very flesh of my babies and cells making up their cords. By His grace, I will not make the mistake I made before, and hopefully this time will not be about me learning a painful lesson, but rather about Him showing His glory.

Please, Lord Jesus, if it is your will, hold and keep my children safe.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

snuggly books

Okay, so not really snuggly . . . but what are the books you can always fall back on?

I've noticed recently that I've gotten in a slump again of reading blogs and magazines, and not so many books (some really GOOD blogs and magazines, but all the same), and whenever that happens, I tend to turn to old favorites to get my book-reading engine started again. In other words, after a reading slump, I don't want to say, "Hey, I ought to be reading more books! Let's dive into Augustine!" No, it's more like, "Hey, I should be reading more books. Well, it's never a chore to spend a few days in Narnia."

Eventually, reading my familiar books gets me ready to tackle my more difficult acquaintances - this time, a lovely little perusal of "Mandy" by Julie Edwards (think "Secret Garden") got me feeling fit enough to tackle Tennyson - and it had me making a list of authors that are just old, comfortable friends. If these books were real people, they'd be the ones whose calls I'd never screen:

-Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" and "That Hideous Strength"
-"Gaudy Night" or "Murder Must Advertise" by Dorothy Sayers
-ANYTHING Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold
-"The Four Story Mistake" by Elizabeth Enright
-"Dear Enemy" by Jean Webster
-anything by Essie Summers or Georgette Heyer
-poetry by John Donne, George Herbert or Gerard Manley Hopkins
-the Brother Cadfael mysteries, by Ellis Peters
-the "Betsy" books by Maude Hart Lovelace

And, yes, about half of those are either romances (of the delightful, full-of-daily-details, old-fashioned variety) or children's books. But I'd defend all of them as good literature, at least of their sort. (Not great, necessarily, but good.)

So . . . who are your dear old friends? Your old comfy slippers of books?

Funny thing is, most of those old comfy slippers, familiar as they are, are of the very finest craftmanship. Bad literature just isn't that soothing. :)

But share yours with me, I'd love to make some new acquaintances at my library!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 4, 2007

more on the twins

After a bit of research, I've found some more hopeful news about monoamniotic twins.

First: it's very possible to get a misdiagnosis, especially from a routine ultrasound. It's not the likeliest thing, but not uncommon, to have a membrane separating the twins found on a more high-level ultrasound, that wasn't visible on the normal ultrasound. We're praying this is the case with our girls.

Second: with good treatment (i.e., agressive, in-hospital monitoring of the babies during the last month and a half of pregnancy, weeks 28-34), monoamniotic twins can have up to a 90% survival rate, rather than a dismal 40%. The "good treatment" isn't a cure, and still involves a long period of hospitalization for the mother before birth, and probably for the babies after birth, but it's sure better odds.

So, I am encouraged.

And deeply, deeply thankful for all of your prayers for me and my family, especially for these very little ones. Please keep us in your prayers. And I will keep you updated as soon as we know more, both about the twins, and about the status of Adam's melanoma diagnosis. May God show his glory and mercy through us.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I went in for my routine, 20 week ultrasound on Thursday (and excuse the lack of posts since then, but after you read this, you'll understand why), and was told by the tech, after she'd been scanning and frowning for a few minutes: "I wouldn't tell you this if it wasn't your third pregnancy, but I don't think you're going to panic: do you know what it means when you have a low-lying placenta?"

Yes, I did. Okay, so this pregnancy was a little more high-risk, hemmoraging was a distinct possibility, I probably wasn't going to get to have a vaginal birth - well, I'd had two very good births already, I could resign myself to a c-section for the sake of this child's health. Okay. I can do this. But . . .

Then the ultrasound tech said, "And, the next thing you should know . . . there are two of them in there."

I believe my exact words were, "Sweet Lord Jesus, have mercy."

Oh, and they are sweet little babies, so beautiful with their heads next to each other, and so many arms and legs moving about. Well, four kids is fine with us, we can do this too.

But then, the very scary part: they are probably monoamniotic, meaning that they share not only all their genes and a placenta, but an amniotic sac as well. And I moved from low-risk, to high-risk, to VERY high-risk. Monoamniotic twins only have a 50% chance of survival; because there is no amniotic sac membrane separating them from each other, their cords can get tangled, and they tend to die in utero.

Moreover, there is no way to prevent this from happening, other than by hospitalizing the mother for the last two months or so of pregnancy. That way, the babies can be constantly monitored, and hopefully cord compression can be caught right away - and as soon as a cord is compressed, the babies are delivered by emergency c-section. And they generally - if they make it so far - aren't allowed to gestate past 34 weeks, because by that point the risk of cord compression, even with constant monitoring, is worse than the dangers of prematurity. So even if monoamniotic twins make it, they are always preemies.

And if I am hospitalized, who will take care of the two children I already have? I know we have friends and family that will help, but the idea of being away from Gamgee and Bess for two months is almost unbearable, worse in my imagination than the idea of losing these twins. I know that's true only because I know my one year old and my three year old so well, and I am just barely getting to know these two little girls in my womb.

So I will be trusting God not only with the life of our unborn babies, but the life of our babies who are already here. He has put in me the desire to protect and care for all my children, but He has not given me the means. I will have to trust Him to do what I cannot: be the protective hand over all of my children. I will have to trust Him to be where I cannot.

I cannot put my hands on my twin girls, and keep them from tangling their cords, but He can. If I am in the hospital, I cannot watch that Bess and Gamgee are being taken care of and loved. But He can.

Oh sweet Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.

(And I hope, hope, hope that there is an amniotic membrane between our littlest ones, that this (non-high-level) ultrasound just could not catch. Please, Father, please.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy All Saints' Day!

The Lord is glorious in his saints!

So, whose stories are you going to tell to your children today?

On our walk back from the grocery store, I talked to Bess about saints, and how saints are people who loved the Lord very much and who were, with his help, holy in what they did. And we talked about St. Brigid, and St. Mary, and St. Peter and St. John, and St. Augustine and St. Monica. About how Brigid fed the poor and visited those in prison, and how Peter walked on the water with Jesus and John was Jesus' friend and Augustine wrote about God to help other people understand God better and how Monica prayed a lot. And we talked about how all of these things were things that made God happy and how Bess could be a saint too by loving the Lord Jesus and doing the good things he wanted her to do.

And do you know what my daughter said when we reached our front door? She volunteered that a Jesus-pleasing thing she could do was "share my candy with my brother when I have a bowl of candy and he doesn't."

Yay! She gets it!

Our other plans for All Saints' include reading some picture books of the saints' lives, singing our new hymn a lot AND . . . seeing our new baby! Yep, we have an ultrasound today, and I can't wait to see this squirt who has, FINALLY started regularly wiggling around so that I can feel him or her.

And it seems like All Saints' Day is a good day to see our new little one, because we hope that he or she will be a saint one day too. May all our children love our Lord and Savior.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

not something I ever wanted to be able to say

So we found out yesterday that a mole my husband had biopsied had melanoma in it. "My husband had cancer" is not something I ever wanted to be able to say. Though "my husband had cancer" is better than "my husband HAS cancer", although at this point I don't know which statement is true. One of them is, but it's going to take a visit to a specialist to find out which one.

At first I thought "just skin cancer" because I've had friends who've had skin cancer "scares", and it hasn't been a big deal. But this is not a scare, it's the real thing, and it's melanoma, which is the worst kind, the kind that kills 1 out of 7 people who get it.

Hopefully, we caught it early. If we did, the survival rate is about 99%. And I think we caught it early. But we don't know yet, and I ask for your prayers that we caught it very early, and that Adam will be just fine.

But, again, "my husband has had cancer" is not what I ever wanted to be able to say.

Adam got his test results while he was at work, and he, knowing me, knew I'd have trouble not worrying, so he told me to make sure I listened to some good music before he got home.

I didn't want to, but I knew he was right, so I looked for my favorite cd of hymns. But I couldn't find it. So I put on a Christmas cd, one of those really good cds where the whole album holds together as one piece of art, rather than a collection of individual songs.

And that's where I found the words I did want to say, that I've always wanted to say, that I always will want to say, words like "Glory to God in the highest!" and "God has come to walk among us" and "Emmanuel, our God is with us now." Those words have been true since the incarnation of Christ, and they are true even though my husband has had (has?) cancer.

It's funny, because I tend to think of comfort as people being close and sweet and tender, but what was comforting yesterday was something majestic and huge and over-awing. What was comforting wasn't what wasn't any human-sized reassurance, but rather an assurance bigger than the universe, that God is great and good, always has been, and always will be.

And I learned that really good Christmas music is good any time of year, because really good Christmas music is about the incarnation and the glory of God, and that is true in October, in May, in March - whenever. Not just December. And it's true in the face of cancer.

God is bigger than this. And I am glad.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Now THAT would be homemaking through the church year!

Did you realize that Easter is really, really, REALLY early this year? As in, there is only exactly ONE month of Epiphany, and Lent starts on February 6? Do you know what that means? It means that Easter Sunday is March 23rd. And do you know what THAT means? It means I could have this baby on Easter Sunday!

I don't know how I feel about that. I would HATE to miss the Queen of Feasts - Easter is my favorite holiday of the whole year, is there anything more glorious than the gold and bells and alleluias and joy of the Lord's ressurection?

On the other hand, could a child have a better birthday?

So, here's my new fantasy: I go to church on Easter morning, worship the Lord in the company of my fellow parishioners, and just as I'm on the church porch, saying goodbye to friends before heading off to Easter dinner, my water breaks, my contractions start, and it's off to the hospital with a baby six or seven hours later (which would be a real miracle, given how long my previous labors were).

Yep, that'd be pretty cool. :)

And the moral of the story is: never assume you're having a Lenten baby until you actually check the calandar.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. My actual due date is Maundy Thursday, but I think my doctor's wrong and I'm actually due on Friday of Bright Week. So . . . Easter Sunday would be right in the middle there.

Monday, October 22, 2007

out and about

Sorry that posts have been light; we've been out and about, and exciting things have been happening.

One exciting thing: we went on vacation! Adam and I realized that aside from a weekend spent camping, we hadn't gotten away for a summer vacation this year. And since his job is pretty generous with paid vacation time, it seemed a shame not to use some of it. So we decided to have a fall vacation, and discovered, to our delight, that lodging rates in the little mountain town we wanted to visit are much cheaper in the fall than they are either in the summer (mountain biking season) or in the winter (skiing season). So we went up to the mountains, to the same place we'd honeymooned, and went hiking and canoeing, and introduced the kiddoes to the joys of throwing rocks into a lake. One other really cool thing was that on the last day of four vacation, my folks came up and babysat the kids for a few hours so that Adam and I could go off on our own. All in all, it was a splendid time. It was kind of funny being back at our honeymoon locale for the first time since our honeymoon, and having three (one in utero) kids with us.

The second very exciting thing is that I sold another article, this time to a magazine that I've read and loved for years. I'll give you more information when it's closer to actually being published; right now I'm in the revision process. Which is pretty amazing too, because the editor I'm working with is so good at his job. I'm learning a lot about the craft of writing just reading his suggestions and requests for revisions.

And I'm starting to feel huge. Last I checked, I hadn't gained a ton of weight (only about 10 lbs., and I'm close to halfway through), but I look very, very pregnant now. It's fun. Especially when my daughter looks at my belly and says, "baby!" and gives my belly a kiss. And then when my son (who at 1 1/2 has no idea what's going on) imitates her and says, "baby!" and makes a kissing noise too.

But, anyway, vacation's over, and life's getting back to normal, but it feels like a better normal for having that time away with my family. Being with Adam all day, instead of just early mornings and the evenings, was such a blessing. Being with him twenty-four hours a day gave me so many opportunities to notice how well our marriage works and how glad I am to be married to this particular man. There were so many times this last week when I thought, "with anyone else, this wouldn't be fun. With anyone else, this would be so much harder. With anyone else, I would be so frustrated. But with you, this is wonderful." It was a blessing to have the time and space to see how blessed I am in my marriage, if that makes sense. I am so grateful for this man, and theses children. Praise the Lord, who created them, and gave us all to each other!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. the work on learning the saint's song continues apace! Brie has begun to ask for "the song we're learning for all Saint's Day" at bedtime; and all the fun of getting ready for Nov. 1 is reminding me of how much I'm looking forward to Advent.

Monday, October 8, 2007

St. Michael and All Angels (plus All Saint's Day)

So . . . I missed Michaelmas. I've been so into this Ordinary Time thing that I've gotten out of the habit of looking for feasts. But I'm beginning to think about All Saint's Day, which is (I think) the next big feast day coming up. (Um, that is, not forgetting the feast days of St. Luke, St. James, St. Simon and St. Jude.)

I don't celebrate the weird American perversion that is Halloween, but I am very interested in finding out what the older, better traditions surrounding All Hallow's Day are, so that I can celebrate them with my children. I like the idea of having a day where we talk all about the people who really, really loved Jesus (this, I think, is the best way to define "saints" to a one year old and a three year old).

My best idea so far is to collect some good picture books about the saints (we already have a few), and to spend the week of All Saint's Day reading them daily. Also, there's a great children's hymn called "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" that I'd love to teach my kids. Bess, at least, is good at picking up song lyrics, and I think if we sang it every day this next month, that she'd learn it. I especially like how the end of each verse says, "and I mean to be one too" (a saint, that is).

And I've heard that in some places in the world, it's traditional to make pretzels on All Saints' Day. I admit that I don't quite understand why.

So, does anyone else have any great ideas about how to celebrate All Saints' with kids?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, October 5, 2007

judge not

I've been (very, very slowly) reading through "The Illumined Heart" by Frederica Mathewes-Green. Very, very slowly because it's my purse book - a tiny book that fits in my purse, that I pull out and read on those rare occasions when I'm sitting somewhere, waiting, and don't have children with me. So, like, doctor's offices, basically. :)

Anyway, I recently read in there these words:

"How can we evaluate another's deeds and respond to them, perhaps even bring about correction and justice, and yet not judge them? To answer that question, picture a courtroom. See where the judge sits? Don't sit there. That's God's seat, and he will judge on the last day."

She goes on to say:

"Until that day, we linger in the courtroom as the dear friend of the accused."

I was very struck by that image, and wondered what it would look like. Well, pretty soon after reading that, I heard a real life example of what it might look like.

I was listening to Dave Ramsey's podcast. Dave Ramsey is a financial guru, very sensible, and he podcasts his call-in radio show. He was talking to one guy (and I'm going from memory here, so forgive any mistakes) and it turned out that this fellow hadn't filed his tax returns. Dave gave him advice on his other problems, and then his voice turned very urgent as he addressed the tax problem. He told him, basically, "You have to do this. You have to file YESTERDAY. Not filing and paying is breaking the law, and you're going to be in huge trouble. Fix it now, so you don't get in huge trouble."

And I thought, "wow, that's what Frederica Mathewes-Green is talking about." It felt like an exact example of the attitude she was urging us to have towards our fellow sinners. The radio host didn't say, "I condemn you for your unlawful actions" he said, "you messed up - fix it while there is still time."

And that's how we're supposed to help one another, when we see sin in each other's lives. Not "well, there's no hope for you" but "hey, you're in trouble, and you'll be in worse trouble soon. Quick! Fix it while there's still time!"

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

a submissive wife

Though I'm still sick, I'm getting better (at least, in my world, not having a headache every day counts as "better") and I'm trying to reclaim that second-trimester energy I was feeling a couple weeks ago.

To that end, I have gotten on the ball with the writing thing, and have submitted two queries to two different magazines in the past three days. I have two more planned before the end of the week (here's hoping!). Submitting a query is, always, a long-odds thing - your odds of being accepted are never terribly high, and your likely rejection rates are. But, here's what I keep telling myself: "Bad as the submission odds are, my chances of my queried article being accepted are much, much better than my chances of my UNqueried articles being accepted." :D Yeah, I think the chances of an unsubmitted article being accepted are zero, and so the ratio of queried chances to unqueried chances works out to infinity. I think. (English's my thing, not math.)

Anyway, I was talking to my husband, excitedly, about my article submissions ('cause, well, after the first-trimester+being-sick slump, being productive, even of queries, feels SO GOOD) and he laughed, and said, "Ah, you're such a submissive wife."

okay, and on that bad pun, I will leave you. G'night!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, September 23, 2007

menu plan monday

Here's a recent yummy experiment:

You can find the recipe here. My husband really liked the sauce, but I personally thought the shrimp was the best part and (oh the shame) enjoyed more the plain shrimp I snatched from the colander before I added them to the dish (no worries, I was using precooked, not raw).

And here's what we're planning on having this next week:

Monday: Sesame Brown Rice Salad with Shredded Chicken and Peanuts
Tuesday: freezer meal
Wednesday: Pumpkin-Bean Soup (double for freezer)
Thursday: Creamy Chicken and Noodles (crockpot meal)
Friday: dinner at folks'
Saturday: Garlic Salmon Linguine

And here's the recipe for Garlic Salmon Linguine, which I received as part of a bridal shower gift from a lady at my church. If you don't like fish or garlic, DO NOT MAKE THIS. If you do like fish and garlic, you'll love this.

-1 (16 oz.) package linguine
-3-6 garlic cloves, minced
-1/3 c. olive oil
-1 can (14 3/4 oz.) salmon, drained (skin and bones removed, if desired)
-3/4 c. chicken broth
-1/4 c. minced fresh parsley
-1/2 t. salt
-1/8 t. chili powder

1) Cook linguine per package directions.
2) Meanwhile, in large skillet, saute garlic in oil. Stir in salmon, broth, parsley, salt and chili powder. Cook until heated through.
3) Drain linguine and add to the salmon mixture and toss to coat. Enjoy.

It's a really tasty, quick weekend sort of supper.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

2nd Trimester Blues

I had about one week of delightful bliss, of it not being 108 degrees outside and me not being exhausted from being in the first trimester. I thought: wow, the second trimester ROCKS.

And then I got sick. Ick, ick, ick. I miss the days when Sudafed was considered safe for pregnancy (it's recently been discovered that use of Sudafed can be correlated with certain birth defects. Not a huge risk, but not one I want to take.).

But this evening, after saying goodbye to my husband and son as they went off for their regular Sunday night guy time (my husband and his friends have a weekly Nintendo date, and there are usually toddlers who tag along, 'cause we're some of those odd twenty-somethings who actually have kids), my daughter came over to me, where I was lying on the couch feeling sick and sorry for myself, and brought me "Time of Wonder" by Robert McCloskey, asking me to read it to her. She climbed up on the couch with me and snuggled up. So I started to read it to her.

A few pages in she said, "Don't read it, let's just look at the pictures." So we did. We went through the whole book twice, looking at McCloskey's beautiful paintings of Maine, talking about trees and rocks and boats and storms and rain and little Sal and her sister Jane. And we talked about the next baby that's coming to our family, and whether it's going to be a boy or a girl.

And after two times through the book and about a half hour of cuddling with my little girl, I got up with my headache gone, my heart cheered, and an actual APPETITE.

Which leads me to just one conclusion: the combination of Robert McCloskey and my daughter is better even than the dynamic duo of Sudafed and Tylenol.

Who knew?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

weaker vessels

I remember, in college, struggling with the ideas set forth in 1 Peter 3, the famous "weaker vessel" passage. I struggled because I didn't like the idea of women being weak, but I also was determined to submit myself to the truth of God's word. If I'd either liked the idea or if I hadn't cared about the veracity of the Bible, well, I wouldn't've had a problem. It ended up being one of those "Okay, I'm sure this is true somehow, but I really don't get it." You know, one of those "I'll take it on faith" passages. Because, as Peter said, "Lord, to whom else should we go?" I was willing to stick with the hard passages because I knew I had no other recourse but Jesus.

Well, I think the past few years, full as they have been of child-bearing and rearing, have helped me understand Peter's words a little better. I'm not sure I completely understand the passage, but I feel like I have more insight into it now.

First, it's talking not to women in general, but to wives. That is, to those who are likely to bear children. Even the word "vessel" implies someone who holds or contains something. And the truth is, when it comes to child-bearing years, I am weaker than my husband. Some writer in Touchstone (Anthony Escolen, maybe?) pointed out awhile ago, when talking about the sacrificial nature of parenting, that every child born into the world necessitated at the very least the sacrifice of its mother's body being broken.

And that's true. Pregnancy and childbirth, and even the whole menstrual cycle, weaken women's bodies amazingly. Even if you aren't bearing children, your body is either suffering from an excess or a dearth of hormones, from puberty through menopause.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I used to try to find some airy-fairy, abstract meaning behind St. Peter's words, and now I'm tending to take them more at face value, more literally. Literally, physically, I am weaker than my husband. I am more at the mercy of my body than he is, especially when my body is serving as the staging ground for a new life, when someone else is taking up residence inside of me and literally sucking its lifeblood from my own and pushing and shaping my very bones and sinews to its own purposes. St. Peter urges husbands to dwell with their wives "according to knowledge" or "with understanding". According to the knowledge, I think, that wives need care that husbands don't, as well as the knowledge that they are "fellow heirs of salvation".

So, for me, what that verse means (I know, I know, evangelical subjective Bible application, forgive me) is: Adam takes care of me so I can take care of our children. And that makes sense. Even to my slightly feminist-leaning self.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What comes after SAHM'ing?

This is a question I've just begun to ponder. First, some happen news that relates to my pondering: we're expecting a new baby in March! We're pretty excited, even though we expect to be pretty tired with three under four. (Though, honestly, I don't know if newborn tired really beats early pregnancy tired - ick.) But, it means that I have, theoretically, at least six more years of full-time child care ahead of me, before our youngest is in school.

So what happens after that? Assuming, of course, that there aren't more kiddoes by that point. I'm beginning to realize that going back to a 40-hour-a-week job isn't that appealing to me. I've been trying to figure out why that is, and what exactly it is I want to do instead.

Part of the reason - a big part - is that I want to be available to my kids should they need me, even though they'll be in school. If they're sick, I want to be able to come and pick them up. When I was in school, my parents both worked or went to school, but a lot of their work was from home, and we knew we could always get a hold of them if we needed to, which was very reassuring. Also, one of them was always home when we got home, which really made home home.

I'm not really pondering doing no work, but I'm beginning to think about doing something from home or with flexible hours, for the purpose of being available to my kids, and being home when they get home.

Then there's the second reason that a traditional 40-hour-a-week job doesn't sound attractive: because what I really want to do for money is to write. Preferably novels, but I like doing freelance articles too (and they're easier to get published).

So my current plan is to take these next six years as a time to slowly (during kids' naps, in the morning before they get up) write and submit and write and submit and work on becoming successful enough in my chosen field that when the kids go to school, I can legitimately take the extra time to write, knowing that I have the ability to make (at least a part-time) living from it.

At least, that's the plan I've come up with as I've tossing the title question around in my head. It also seems to have in its favor the fact that if working at it an hour or two a day for six years finds me largely unsuccessful, well, I'll know I need another plan. Seriously, being a SAHM seems an almost perfect proving ground for a writer. If I can do that while doing this, it means that I really want it. (And any success in the meantime sure helps the family budget. Though I took the profits from the articles I sold so far and used them to buy MS Word - the better to write and sell more articles, my dear.)

Of course, I'm sure that my plan isn't the only one out there, and I'm guessing there are other SAHM's out there looking at the same question. What's your take on the question? What are your ideas, your plans, your dreams? Are there things you're doing now to prepare for when the kids are gone for larger amounts of time? I bet there are a lot of people whose answer is: "I'm going to homeschool", but even then, what happens when they go off to college? Are you planning on taking some extra classes yourself while you teach your kids? Anyone gunning for a part-time masters degree?

Since I've only recently started thinking about this, I'm really interested in what other people think. In fact, if you have some great thoughts and want to write a guest blog, just let me know. :) Or just fill up the comments with great idea. :)

Thanks for your input!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Civil Campaign

I just finished rereading (for maybe the seventh time) the excellent A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold (not Christian, but oh-such-good-fiction - it includes in its merits the one scene in literature that makes me laugh out loud, no matter where I happen to be when I read it, and the most poignant fictional letter I've ever read), and I've been thinking for awhile about something one of the characters says.

Lord Miles Vorkosigan, the main character, is ordered by his emperor to ask his father to give him "that lecture on honor versus reputation he gave me that time." Miles obeys, and what his father ends up telling him is this:

" 'I wouldn't have called it a lecture. Just a useful distinction, to clarify thought.' He spread his hand, palm up, in a gesture of balance. 'Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.' "

I've been thinking about this quotation - this definition, if you will - more than I had before, because I feel like it speaks to something I've been noticing in my life. There is a weird way in which the very physical life of a mother of toddlers (cleaning, playing, changing diapers, carrying, cleaning some more, etc.) forces all of the most important parts of my life to be inward things. When I've had conversations with people recently, I've found myself struggling for things to say. How do you say, "My life is largely made up of menial tasks, but I know more about myself and about God now than I ever have before" without sounding bizarre? And how do you explain that pouring yourself out into a schedule of potty-training, legos, diapers and meal preparation is a path to holiness like none you'd ever before conceived of? What do you do when the changes inside you are so momentous and yet so slow - like the irreparable moving of tectonic plates, the landscape's different but you wouldn't notice unless you could watch it in stop-motion film - that there isn't something new to tell your friends each time you see them?

On the one hand there are the weekly changes in my children ("Look, Gamgee can say "where's Dad?" now!") to point to, or the new, clever housekeeping thing I figured out ("I now know Clorox wipes are great for cleaning out little potties."), but those are only the surface things of my life, and I haven't yet figured out how to talk properly about the bigger things. About how a year ago I was less patient than I am now, but how now I can see how much more patient I'm going to have to become. About how I can better tell when I'm wasting time now, but how the time-wasters that still tempt me are harder to resist? About how Morning Prayer has been a blessing I embrace but somehow when I'm out of my home and at mass, I have trouble praying? About how much I've grown to care about the spiritual development of my children, and how inept I feel in aiding that development along? And that just scratches the surface of the work that I feel my life is about right now.

So I come back to Bujold's definition of honor versus reputation. My reputation right now is small. I'm a stay-at-home mom, and that's most of what most people know about my life. It wouldn't look that impressive in an alumni magazine. (And am I the only one who gets antsy when reading her alumni magazine?) But what I know about myself is that I'm following the vocation the Lord has laid upon me, and I am learning the riches of the love of Christ in my daily work. And, even though it's a harder choice than I ever would have guessed, like Miles and his father, I would choose honor over reputation every time.

But I still want to learn how to talk about big things properly. Writing about them is much, much easier.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. to whet your appetite, here's what Miles' father says a little bit later in that conversation:

" The Count studied his fingernails. 'It could be worse. There is no more hollow feeling than to stand with your honor shattered at your feet while soaring public reputation wraps you in rewards. That's soul-destroying. The other way around is merely very, very irritating."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WFMW: making my own rag rugs

This has been a very crafty summer (see my post on learning to sew), but I think my favorite craft has been the new rag rugs I made for our bedroom and our bathroom.

I've always liked rag rugs, but they simply seemed to complicated to make. How, after all, do you braid rags?

Well, I still don't know the answer to that question. But, thanks to this tutorial from This Vintage Chica, I now know how to crochet rags. And that, my friends, has made all the difference. The truth is, if you know even the most basic single crochet stitch, you can make your own gorgeous rag rugs. And the other truth is, the part that takes the longest isn't the crocheting, it's the cutting of the rag strips.

This rug, now in our bedroom, is mostly made out of our old denim couch slipcover:

This rug, now in our bathroom, is more colorful, and is made out of shirts, sheets and sarongs:

The nice thing about that one is, because I made it myself, I was able to make it extra long, so that we could kneel comfortably next to the tub when bathing the kids. It's also made out of mostly cotton cloth, which means it dries out easily.

I wish you could see what these actually have done for these rooms. The bathroom looks more cheery now, with that bright, soft rug on the tile floor, and the rug in our bedroom picks up the colors from the quilt on our bed and the hangings over the windows and lends the room a mellow, comfy air. This is a great, satisfying craft - beautiful and useful at the same time. (And frugal! You'll never throw out a stained shirt or sheet again! Just cut out the stain and rag the rest for a rug!)

Making my own rag rugs works for me!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, August 26, 2007

to the other blogging moms:

thank you. Truly.

Last night, I was browsing links from Et Tu, Jen?'s weekly links post. I don't remember where exactly I found it, but somewhere between Radical Catholic Mom and The Wine Dark Sea, I came across the idea, the reminder really, that when it comes to our children, serving their immediate needs (real needs) is pretty much always what God would have us be doing. If they need water, then getting up and getting them water is serving Jesus, and he'd probably rather have us doing that than doing any other great devotional work.

Anyway, I was glad to have that at the forefront of my mind, because just as my husband and I were getting ready for bed, my three year old woke up, projectile vomiting and with a fever of about 103. Bedtime was delayed by a good hour as we cleaned her up, tried to get her to drink and take some Tylenol, held her head as she threw up again, tried more water and Tylenol, held her head as she threw up again, changed her again, rinsed more laundry, dug out the electrolyte drink and moved her bed into our room so we could keep an ear out for her during the night.

Through all of this I was nursing my own headache and longing to be asleep. But I still managed to be soothing and present with my daughter. I don't think I could have done that as well if I hadn't had in my head the encouraging thought that this was obviously exactly what Jesus would have me doing right then. I'm so glad I read those blog entries; they came at the perfect time, right before I really needed them, and I didn't even know it.

This morning, Bess still has a fever, but she's been able to keep down crackers and water and Tylenol, and her fever's a much less scary 100.5. Please pray for her and for us, though, for healing and that it doesn't spread through the rest of our family.

But I just wanted to say: it was cool to see how God gave me the reminder I needed right before I needed it. I am amazed, as always, at how the Holy Spirit works through his people. And tickled to see that that includes us momma bloggers. :)

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. the other big reason last night was so much better than it could have been? I wasn't alone. Adam was there, holding and comforting and cleaning right along side me. Thank God, also, for husbands. Amen and amen.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ordinary Time and the Creeds

I can feel Advent and Christmas beginning to bear down on us, even though it's almost August. What can I say? In my family, my mom always started her Christmas shopping in January, and when it gets to the end of summer and I find my Christmas list less than half-fulfilled, I start to feel behind.

But it's still the long, green season of the Holy Spirit, to quote Jessica Powers, and it feels like the whole of the season has been filled with the Creeds.

(A quick side-note: as I'm writing this, my children are having their "quiet time" in their room. Although right now it sounds like what they've decided to do with their "quiet time" is have a shrieking contest. Oh well, as long as they stay in their separate beds while they squeal back and forth, it's okay with me. But somehow, I couldn't keep writing this post without giving you a feeling of the "SHRIEK!gigglegiggleSHRIEK!" soundtrack that I'm hearing in my house right now.)

This summer, we taught our now-three-year-old the Apostle's Creed. And saying it altogether is now part of our bedtime routine, right in between the Lord's prayer and praying for our family. (I give you a direct quotation of my daughter's nightly prayer: "Dear Lord. Please bless Aunt Rho and she can do well. Give her good night's sleeps. Amen.") We made up hand motions to go with the Creed and even my one year old son raises his hands at the end ("and life everlasting! Amen!")

I have trouble now, when I read the Creed during my own quiet time, not using the strongly rhythmic entonation we developed when teaching it to my daughter: "I beLIEVE in GOD the FATHER. ALmighty MAKER of HEAVEN and EARTH." I can't say "he descended into hell" anymore. It always comes out: "he DEscended into hell."

But in a way, it's a good thing. I've thought more about the Creed this summer, teaching it to my daughter, than I ever have before in my life. There was one day, during Morning Prayer, when I just read it slowly, and hit something like contemplation as I pictured what each of those short, succinct phrases actually meant. "He was concieved by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary". Really? Really? How can that BE? After "almighty maker of heaven and earth", how did he get small enough to be an embreyo?

Though I had no idea that this would end up being our theme during Ordinary Time this year, I think the Creed is a fitting theme for this time of year. We look at Christ's birth during Advent, his death and resurrection during Holy Week, and other parts of his life on other high holy days. But Ordinary Time is a good time to stand back and look at the whole thing, the whole of our faith. And where better to find it all put together than in the Creed?

Maybe next year we'll have graduated from the Apostle's the Nicene. :D

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, August 9, 2007

looking out for each other

I am (and you may laugh, if you like) a fan of Dr. Laura. In that I enjoy listening to her while I do housework, I appreciate the encouragement she gives to parents and spouses to be good parents and spouses, and I find the issues she deals with on her show thought-provoking. I don't agree with her on everything (I think, for instance, that she doesn't really understand forgiveness - though, to be fair, she isn't a Christian, and so I don't expect her to share my theological views on forgiveness), but I do enjoy and deeply appreciate her work.

So, when I saw her newest book at the library, I picked it up, and I'm about halfway through. It's a lot like her show: easy to absorb, mostly right, encouraging and thought-provoking. The thought-provoking part might be the best part. Reading it in snatches since Wednesday has left me thinking a lot during the day about marriage, what makes a good marriage, and what specifically makes my marriage good. Which is good pondering material as I clean the house, feed the kids and take the occasional, much-appreciated, nice, long shower. (We just got back from camping and I am - oh so truly - all about the running water.)

I've always known - since before we were dating actually - that one of the things that really works between Adam and me is that we are good at doing things together. Once, when we were still just friends, we cleaned out a really disgusting fridge together (it was at the end of an MK retreat) and even though we were, you know, cleaning out a really disgusting fridge, we had a grand old time. That's when I discovered that Adam was a good guy to have with you if you wanted ordinary life to be fun. He's just really, really good at normal things, at day-to-day stuff, at chores, at meals, on walks, at games. In fact, the perfect man for me to marry. (And so, dear reader, I did.)

But though that is still true (truer than ever), this time around, thinking about our marriage and what was good about it, I came up with a new answer: the longer and longer the time is that we've been married, the more Adam and I look out for each other. In fact, we've started looking out for each other so much, that we're starting to look out for ourselves less and less. It's coming about that I don't have to tell Adam when I'm dead tired, and really need a bit more sleep. He notices and gets up with the kids on those Saturday mornings and lets me sleep in an hour, without me having to ask. And it's coming to be that while he won't bother to notice that he's stressed out, but I will, and I'll help him get back to his normal, calm self.

And this new development, coming about now and not earlier, I think, because it has just taken us this long to really get to know each other, is so very good. It lets us both be at the same time less selfish, and more loving.

Someone might say, "Well, you could be taken care of just the same if you both just looked out for and took care of yourselves." Well, maybe. But isn't this so much better? I don't have to look out for me, because someone else is doing it. And I can, instead, focus my attention on someone outside of myself, and learn more about how to love. And here's the thing: I can do it because I'm secure. I don't have to worry about me, because someone else is worrying about me.

It's two gifts in one - or maybe three. It's the gift of being loved, the gift of loving, and the gift of being able to let go of myself.

And (St. Paul was so wise) it mirrors the love Christ has for his church. Isn't that why we can feel safe loving anyone at all? because God first loved us? If I didn't believe that my heavenly Father was watching over me, I don't think I'd ever take my eyes off myself long enough to look out for anyone else. I'd be so scared, so anxious to see to my own needs, that I'd never take the time to see to someone else's. But because I know that my Father loves me, and will take care of me, I can devote time and energy to people other than myself. I can be a parent to my children only because God is being a parent to me.

And it's just so cool to see that principle, that part of God's love for his people, being mirrored in our marriage. God gives me, in the very tangible love of my husband, a picture of the spiritual truth of his love for his Church. He's like a priest who knows that the kids need an object lesson in order to understand the children's sermon. It's just so cool.

There. That's my deep thought for the day: I can take care of Adam because he's taking care of me, and he can take care of me because I'm taking care of him, and really, that can all happen because God's taking care of all of us.

And here's to books that make you think. (Thanks, Dr. Laura.)

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

surely there's a sermon illustration in there

I know someone who gets really excited when weird things happen to him and his wife, because he knows he can always use it as a sermon illustration.

Well, I have no pulpit, but I do have a blog, and yesterday I had a sermon illustration moment.

After supper, my husband and I were getting the kids ready to go for a walk. The plan was to put them in their carrier backpacks and hike to the park with them. So Adam got the backpacks out of the garage, and they were sitting in the living room while we got shoes and hats on the four of us.

That was when Gamgee discovered that one of his pacifiers (which he now only gets at bedtime and naptime and during church) was attached to Adam's backpack by a lanyard. So Adam found our son bent over awkwardly, scrunched and uncomfortable, and sucking away on his binky.

Surely there's a sermon illustration in that, right? What comes to my mind is that this is what our old, immature habits do to us. The ones we've outgrown. The ones that are perhaps permissible, but that are no longer beneficial. We snatch at them anyway, old comforts that they are, but find that enjoying them makes us crumple ourselves into odd, uncomfortable positions, because really, we're too big now for a binky.

Just a thought, courtesy of a really cute one and a half year old.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, July 27, 2007

learning to sew

So, in this long green season of Ordinary Time, I've been trying to master a few ordinary skills. I've been taking a peek at what housekeepers of old used to know (for a fascinating read, try "Behind the Scenes" by Christina Hardyment, which is an intricate and detailed look at how the great houses of England used to go about their day-to-day work of feeding everyone and cleaning up after everyone). And I am realizing that I really should know how to sew. So, after a cute but amateurish dress for my daughter (which is known as "the dress my mommy made for me"), and nine reversable napkins (to better acquaint me with my somewhat tempermental machine), I've made myself a real, live, pretty shirt that I'm actually not ashamed to wear in public:

(Please forgve the bra strap in the first picture - eep!)

Isn't that cute? I made the pattern myself, tracing on grocery store ads the lines my favorite sundress, and shortening it considerably. The pattern pieces just fit on a beautiful blue length of fabric that I bought at a thrift store during a shopping trip with my grandma. It isn't perfect, but it's really pretty, and - thanks to being able to try it on, tailor it, and try it on again - it fits me perfectly. I think I like this sewing thing.

Anyone else out there trying something new this summer? I'd love to hear about your explorations and new pastures.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

He has borne our griefs

Today I read something online that depressed me utterly. Scared me, depressed me, horrified me. Nevermind what, because I've no wish to depress, horrify or scare anyone else, and everyone runs across such things sooner or later anyway. But I was sunk in a slough of "oh God, why did you give me children when they have to share world-space with men such as these?" I'm sure you know that awful feeling you get when you're faced with evil too utterly bleak to bear contemplation.

I told my husband what I was feeling, and why, and after supper he went over to his computer, and next thing I know, I hear a sure, steady voice booming across our kitchen, reading St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

"Thank you," I mouthed to him. He nodded and gave me a smile, and we kept clearing the dishes.

Scripture helps. Scripture to music helps even more. After a bit of time listening to Paul's heartening words (Paul is heartening even when he is chastizing), we put on Handel's Messiah.

And I sat, and I listened to the choir sing that Christ has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. "Surely. SURELY. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." And I suddenly had a picture of Christ, strong and sure, his back broad enough to hold the depressing horror I had read about, broad enough to carry it. He suddenly seemed bigger than all the world in my eyes, and more good than I had beheld him before. Surely, surely. And not only was his back broad enough to bear that horror, but he was good enough to overcome it. It shrank and was swallowed up in the strength of his goodness. It could not stand before him, the One who faced it on the cross, who died, who harrowed hell and who rose again, triumphant, Lord of heaven and earth.

That is what he suffered when he hung on the cross, that is the guilt he bore when the Father turned his face from him. "The scum of the earth" is more than a catchphrase. It is what he allowed to cling to him, that he might destroy it forever. "And with his stripes we are healed." My current nightmare and more, all nightmares, he faced and suffered, that they might not have eternal power over his children, over those the Father gave to his care.

Surely, surely. And I love him, because he first loved me. And this is the love wherewith he has loved me. That he would stand between all of us and the powers of hell. And not just stand, but overcome. That is the might and majesty of our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen and amen.

peace to you, the peace of Christ to you,

Friday, June 29, 2007

summer joys

yellow current tomatoes

strawberry-orange smoothies

sunflowers taller than my husband

letters from teacher friends that make me laugh out loud

my son running across the yard with his tongue stuck out and his hand raised over his head, clutching a fistful of dirt

cheap honeydew melon

cool evening air

the hammock

pasta margherita

my daughter jumping into her wading pool with a happy yell

hair that's long enough to pin up off of my neck


box fans

real tomatoes, good tomatoes

verbena and sage, in their infinite varieties

For all these things, thanks be to God.

Monday, June 25, 2007


In thinking about ordinary holiness, what's come to mind again and again is that a great part of virtue is just doing it. Whatever "it" is in that moment. Just do the dishes, just read the book to your children, just go out and water the garden. Don't give yourself time to dread doing your duty, just do it.

Well, in thinking about this, I've realized that blogging is not often one of those duties I need to just do. It's something optional in my life, and while I've enjoyed it very much, I am not enjoying it now, and since it's not necessary (and is taking time and energy and joy from things that are necessary), I'm going to put it on a back burner for awhile.

I'll still post sometimes, but I'm going to stop trying to post regularly. I might get back to it someday, but I won't know until I get there and it's right again.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: leave me on your Bloglines, but don't check back every day if you don't do RSS. :)

May you have a good summer, blessed by our Lord.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, June 21, 2007

books, not blogs

I just finished "Our Tempestuous Day: A History of Regency England" by Carolly Erickson, and then promptly forgot to bring it with me to return to the library. Still, it was a triumph to have finished. I like histories, and this was a good one, but they just don't pull me in the way novels do. I don't have to stay up late finishing them and, frankly, that's the way I'm most likely to get a book read.

And I am reading books again. For awhile, in love with the novelty of having a laptop, I just surfed the Web. It was bad for me. I love blogs, don’t get me wrong, and I have no compunction about reading the ones I’ve bothered to put on my Bloglines account. I wish more of my friends and family had blogs. But from blogs, I go to clicking links, and finding forums, and pretty soon an hour’s gone and I’m frustrated to find that I spent it doing, as Screwtape said, neither what I ought nor what I like.

So I’ve been making a point to read real books again. Even the ones that are just ripping good yarns, and not high literature. Although, honestly, name me a novel that is high literature and not a ripping good yarn. You could write a dozen dozen dissertations on the themes of Jane Eyre and not come to the end of your material, but isn’t it, first and foremost, a page-turner? I think it was Susan Howatch that said, when asked about her intentions in writing, that her first intention was to write well enough that the reader wanted to turn the page and read what happened next. All great themes and deep thoughts must bow to that discipline, the discipline of writing the readable.

As I said, I want to write this summer about ordinary holiness. And for me, part of ordinary holiness is being selective about how I spend my time, including my reading time. “Our Tempestuous Day”, “Christ in His Saints” and even the Star Trek novel I devoured last week (which had the virtue of having a classic good-vs.-evil plot) are better for me than blankly clicking links without actively deciding to read next what I’m going to read next. A book takes commitment, so I’m more likely to consider whether I should read it or not than I am to consider the virtue of reading the next webpage.

Again, there sure are websites worth reading. I’m not giving up the internet. I’m just returning to books. Especially the readable ones.

(And if you want a readable history of Regency England, “Our Tempestuous Day” is one. Even if it’s title prompts me to sing “Hail thee, Festival Day” over and over and over without realizing why.)

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ordinary Time

I’m still enamoured with the idea of blogging through the church year, but only a few weeks into the long, green season of Ordinary Time, and I’m wondering what exactly to blog about.

But I’ve discovered the answer, I think: ordinary holiness.

So, for the long green season, barring the occasional high holy days that crop up (All Saints and All Souls, anyone?), I’m going to be blogging more about the homemaking part of homemaking through the church year. Stuff about housework, gardening, and especially parenting, both the practical stuff and the abstract stuff. For me, homemaking encompasses both the physical care of my family and house, and the spiritual, relational work there is to be done in a family and home. Ordinary Time (which means “counted” or “ordinal” time, not “normal” time) is, I think, a good time to work on ordinary life, on the day-to-day duties, honing our ability to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

So that’s what I expect this blog to be about during these next few (hot, hot, hot, swelteringly hot) summer months. Ordinary holiness for Ordinary Time. And if you can keep the different uses of the word “ordinary” straight, you’re more on top of it than I am. ☺

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, June 17, 2007

in the garden

Well, my sunflowers (yet without flowers) are touching the patio roof, but what I'm really excited is what's in that picture above: beans and tomatoes. I steamed those beans, tossed them with a little butter and was in culinary heaven. Tender and meaty and just perfect. And tomatoes aren't tomatoes unless you picked them two minutes ago. Mmmmm, summer.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell