Tuesday, December 22, 2009

100 push-ups and 20 pull-ups challenges are a go!

We started Sunday night. And I am SO SORE. My whole upper body aches.
"Challenge" is the right word for it. Ouch, ouch, ouch . . .
And after that inviting report, is anyone else in? C'mon - show folks that "mom" can be synonymous with "buff"!
Getting in shape is interesting because your body is constantly changing, but staying in shape can get monotonous, because there aren't any exciting weigh-ins anymore - no new clothing sizes to shrink into. With these challenges, I'm experimenting to find out if fitness challenges are a good way to keep myself motivated to stay in shape. Though I wouldn't mind it, I don't necessarily need to lose any weight (though I think these challenges would help you if that was your goal, because building muscle is the best thing you can do to lose fat), but I like the idea of getting stronger as a motivator. I'm hitting the point where keeping boredom at bay is a good idea, and this seems to be working.
At least so far. I'll let you know if it gets boring by the second week. If being in pain can be boring . . . ;)  
(Actually, I think it can. But that's an opinion that should be explored in a more serious post than this one is.)
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

with apologies to Billy Joel, I Have Been a Fool For Lesser Things

When I was in college, I was part of a great books program that required a long paper at the end of every semester. Towards the end of my college career, I started to get teased by my professor because I was, he said, always writing my papers on romance.
And it was true. My favorite was one about reason and passion, as depicted in Pride and Prejudice. I posited that what was necessary to a good romance was a dynamic balance between reason and passion. If you had just reason and no passion, you had the cold-fish romance of Collins and Charlotte. If you had just passion and no reason, you had the foolish marriage of Lydia and Wickham. And if you had passion tempered by reason, and reason enlivened by passion, you had the loving marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy, where they could rightly judge both each other's faults and each other's virtues, yet charitably extend grace, and love one another in such a way that they both became better people for their love.
Now, as I attempt to start a career as a romance novelist, I'm glad to have that foundation in the great works of Western literature. Not just in Austen, but in Donne, in Chaucer (see Troilus and Crisedye), Dante, and going further back, before "romance" was invented in anything like the form we now know, the deep discussions of love found in Augustine, in Boethius, in Anselm of Canterbury, in St. Paul of Tarsus. Because true love between man and wife is so very much like the love between Christ and his church. (Because, of course, all human loves are possible because God made us in His image.)
So I am most grateful for that education because I think having read those books will make it more likely that the stories I write get love right, that they are, in addition to being entertaining (as all fiction should be), true. That in some small way they echo the beauty of God's love for us.
But, to be more shallow, I am glad to have read the great romances because it gives some consolation when I feel (every so often) silly for writing romances. After all, if you say you write romances, the first thing that pops into people's minds might be something like this, when really, you're aiming at  something more like this or this. (Note that I said "aiming for" - may my efforts be some small tribute to their genius!)
At times like that, having read the great works, and having been made to write papers on them, been made to think hard about them, I can remind myself that, though romance is not the greatest theme in literature, it is a noble one, with a goodly heritage. I may be short-statured, but I'm following in the footsteps of giants.
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. the title comes from this song.  I've always particularly liked the line I quoted.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

an introvert's thoughts on writing fiction

This is something I realized first as a reader - when I was reading Lewis and could feel myself trying to think in imitation of his written thoughts; a lovely experience, given how clear-minded he is.
Writing (when you write to be read) is opening yourself up and inviting folks to tromp around inside, feeling and thinking after you. It’s a weird combination of power and vulnerability. They give you control of their minds, for a time, but you have to be willing to let them have at you, too. You can tell them what to feel, but you have to give them that feeling from the feelings you store inside yourself. You have to be willing to lend them your insides, but you get to do it in this highly-structured way. (Ah, narrative. How necessary and beautiful you are.)
There's a lot of give-and-take to writing and reading. It's a more social proposition than I realized.
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

100 push-ups, 20 chin-ups, and a hand-stand just for fun

My husband and I are contemplating (contemplating! I'm not quite sold yet, though I'm close) taking on a couple of fitness challenges. If I were a running type, this would be going for my first half-marathon. But I'm not a running type, I'm a strength-training type, and so here's what's piqued my interest:

-One Hundred Push-ups: it's a six-week training program that gradually builds you up to the point where you can do 100 push-ups. My reason for wanting to try it: being able to do 100 push-ups would be hecka cool (as my Texan friend Linds would say). And I'm not getting younger, so if I'm ever going to do it, now would be the time. Downside? Push-ups stinkin' hurt. But I tried their initial test, to see what level I'd be starting at, and I actually managed to do 20 regulation push-ups. I was kind of surprised - guess the Shred really works. But I have the sinking feeling that doing 100 push-ups wouldn't just be five times as much; it feels like it would be 20x20x20x20x20 times as much. 

I argued with Adam that surely there's a set point of push-ups beyond which your body just will not go, and he argued back that he was pretty sure that set point was well beyond 100, because eventually, it'd just be like walking: once you've got the muscle to do it, it's really more aerobic than anaerobic. I'm not sure it's exactly the same, but it's not a bad point. 

-The Twenty Pull-ups Challenge: I have to admit, this one intimidates me way more than the push-up challenge. I can do 20 push-ups; I'm not sure I can do even one pull-up.

Okay, I just went and checked. No, I can not. I can almost do one. I can do it if I jump, but if I hang, I can get my forehead level with the bar, but not my chin.

See, this makes it much more intimidating.

Happily, the challenge has an option at starting at Week -1, or even Week -2, rather than jumping in at Week 1. In Week -2, you start with negative pull-ups, i.e., climbing up to the top and then slowly lowering yourself down.

Would it work? I don't know. But honestly, even being about to do 5 pull-ups would be pretty cool.

(btw, we do not actually have a pull-up bar at our house, however, our children's trapeze swing, which is hung underneath our stairs, can be adjusted up to pull-up height, and I think that'll do as a substitute. It's what I just tested myself on anyways.)

-The Handstand Challenge - this one is entirely made up by my husband. Adam just thinks it would be fun to learn how to do handstands. There once was a time when I could do a handstand for, oh, 15 seconds at a time, and I think it'd be cool to get at least that good at it again. Adam's goal is to be able to hold a handstand for at least 30 seconds.

I am not the most coordinated person in the world, so I think this one might be the challenge that plays most to my weak points. But spotting each other doing handstands in the living room makes for a good date night, right? right? At least it costs less than two tickets to the movies and a couple of hours of baby-sitting. :D

And knowing us, it'll probably make us laugh a lot more.


So . . . do any of those look like fun to anyone else? Or do you have a fitness goal you're working towards, or a different challenge you're taking on?

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Links: Christ the King, egalitarianism, weight-lifting and more!

Amy of Splendor in the Ordinary has a great post up about Christ the King Sunday (my favorite Sunday of the church year!), with ideas for how to celebrate it as a family. (Okay, this is a little late - but hey! ideas for next year!)

Allen Yeh's Biblical defense of egalitarianism is well-worth reading. He explains what he's trying to do at the start:

I am not trying to prove egalitarianism without doubt from Scripture. I think it is impossible to prove either egalitarianism or complementarianism without doubt from Scripture, which is why it is considered one of these indeterminate nonessential things, like paedobaptism vs. credobaptism, premill vs. amill vs. postmill, and Calvinism vs. Arminianism. What I hope to do is show that a case can be made from Scripture about egalitarianism. I’m afraid that some complementarians often hold the Scriptural “high ground” as if somehow egalitarianism is a non-Biblical position. All I want to do is show that it is not as clear-cut as all that; that a case can be made for egalitarianism; and hopefully we can be more charitable toward each other recognizing that good evangelicals can hold various interpretations on such disputed nonessential, non-heretical matters.



I liked this interview with fitness trainer, Mike Heatlie. He advocates women lifting heavy weights (yay!) and points out that you're not going to see a six-pack unless you have a low body-fat percentage (somehow, all those ab-machine people forget to point that out). I think cardio is more useful than he seems to - but it's useful for general health, and he's right that resistance is the way to go to lose fat (though all cardio is a bit resistance and all resistance is a bit cardio). And I like tricep kickbacks, but I know they're not as efficient as squats :)

Here's a new webcomic, and aside from the fact that a quick glance could fool you into thinking the characters are Starbucks coffee cups, I don't see anything to dislike about it.

And speaking of webcomics, this one my husband forwarded me (and that I've seen other places too) about natural parenting is hilarious. (Reminds me of the old joke: what do you call people who practice NFP? Parents.)


peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Monday, December 14, 2009

Menu Planning from our CSA basket

We subscribe to a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, we have a teeny-tiny share in a local farm, and our return for our investment is a big basket of food every two weeks. I never know what we're going to get, so it's like Christmas every time, picking up the basket and driving home with the sweet-spicy smell of basil wafting from the passenger seat, where the basket is riding. And when I get home, I have to unpack it all and come up with something to do with all that produce.

It's actually a lot of fun, and I love just having the produce around, because even aside from the planned dinners, I'm always finding uses for it in our lunches and snacks - throwing a bit of celery into a soup, or some tomatoes into pasta, or chopping up apples for snacks.

I didn't get a picture of our basket this week, but here's what we had in it:

Herbs:

-dill

-cilantro

-basil

Vegetables:

-celery

-red-leaf lettuce

-romaine lettuce

-bok choy

-zucchini

-carrots

-tomatoes

-onions

-potatoes

-butternut squash

Fruits:

-pears

-limes & lemons

-oranges

-grapefruit

-apples


And, of course, flowers.


And here's what we're making from it:

-salad from the lettuce and basil (and a few other veg)

-snacks from the fruit

Sunday: Chicken Salad with Dill, & crackers (using dill, onion & celery)

Monday: Cilantro Chicken & brown rice (using cilantro, onion & tomato)

Tuesday: Spicy Dill Rice (the combination of dill, cardamom and jalapeno sounds fascinating)

Wednesday: Veggie Stir-fry with Terriyaki Chicken (using bok choy, carrots, zucchini, celery and onion)

Thursday: Carmelized Root Vegetable and Meatball Soup (using butternut squash, potatoes, carrots and onion)

Friday: out

Saturday: Ham & Potato Soup (using celery, onion and potato)


For more menus, check out Menu Plan Monday.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Advent

First, I offer a candy-making tip: if you're making (say) toffee with (let's just pretend) a dark-chocolate, almond-studded crust, you do not have to go buy the ridiculously-expensive teeny-tiny bottles of Karo in order to get your couple tablespoons of corn syrup. Just use a bit of that huge jug of fake maple syrup because it, after all, is just corn syrup with artificial flavoring.

(And yes, I like real maple syrup better, and we get it upon occasion, but you should see our kids go through pancakes. Real maple syrup all the time is really not a realistic prospect.)

(Also, does anyone else think it's silly that teeny-tiny bottles of corn syrup for baking are so costly per ounce when that same corn syrup can be had super-cheap in, say, ketchup? Or cereal? Or soup?)

But, to the real subject: please forgive the blog silence. I've had a severe case of introversion, and it's extended to blogging.

That's not quite the right way to put it though. I've always been an introvert, but not a very extreme one, and usually my life has included enough quiet time that my introversion wasn't a problem. I expended energy in social situations, sure, but I always had the chance to recharge - usually while alone, reading or writing.

But recently our kids have all been at really demanding stages - not bad, just demanding - and taking care of the four of them all day has taken every ounce of energy that I had. Then, when in the evenings I was supposed to go and interact with other people, I felt resentful, because it felt like those social interactions were beating me up, stealing what I needed in order to take care of my kids the next day. I got to the point where I actually wanted to weep every time I thought about going out anywhere. I was simply exhausted.

Somewhere in my head, I thought that I wasn't allowed to be exhausted anymore because, after all, our twin daughters were not twin newborns anymore. It was fair to be exhausted when I had two babies, I thought, but now that they were toddlers, I ought to be doing as well as any other mom. I didn't want to believe everything I'd read about how twin toddlers can be harder than twin newborns - after all, most of the twin toddlers in those articles were holy terrors, and our girls are actually pretty sweet and agreeable little people.

But I'm not exempt. Having two one-year-olds just IS hard. Even if they're sweet. And I am allowed to be this tired. And if I am this tired, I need to rest. Not to be proud and say I can do it all without help. It's the same old lesson again: I am not God. And I am glad.

So, even though I think this will all be better in six months (two two-year-olds, a four-year-old, and a five-and-a-half-year-old sounds better than two one-year-olds, a three-year-old and a five-year-old), I've been working on learning how to live well now in the situation I'm in. I was tempted to just say, "Keep going, push through, get it done," but that is the exact same attitude that led me to breaking both of my arms five years ago, and I'm extremely wary of it. Better to stop, observe, think, and pray.

So I have been, and that's included stopping blogging for a while. I'm picking it up again, but slowly. I love Advent though, and want to write a little about it, and this is the place to do it. I just felt like I had to apologize (in the older sense of the word) for my absence first.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What was in our CSA basket this week

Actually, last week. But isn't it pretty?

Here it all is out of the basket:

We got:
-flowers
-red leaf lettuce
-mystery green (chard?)
-arugula (I think . . .)
-basil
-cilantro
-celery
-carrots
-summer squash
-butternut squash
-yams
-potatoes
-onion
-cucumbers
-tomatoes
-green beans
-oranges
-lemons
-apples
-persimmons

The persimmons, apples, oranges, cucumbers, lettuce and arugula became snacks.

Menu-wise, here's what we did and are doing. The onion, potatoes, carrots and celery went into this yummy turkey soup (doubled it and froze half). I used ham instead of Canadian bacon.

Some of the basil went into pasta over the weekend, and some of it went into bruschetta chicken, along with some tomato. (I also chopped the summer squash up finely and put it in the pasta; I will give it this compliment: it was unobjectionable.)

The rest of the tomato was used in fish tacos with chipotle cream from this book. Even my husband, who's less than enthusiastic at the thought of eating fish, liked them.

Some of the cilantro went into the tacos (I think) and the rest of it went into picnic caviar (an absolutely amazing vegetarian recipe; I can't even count how many times we've eaten it).

I'm planning on sticking the greens and the beans into this Indonesian Beef Curry with Coconut Rice (made with less jalapeno than called for for the kids' sake). Btw, don't skip the coconut rice; it totally makes the meal. Also, you can make it with plain ol' ground beef; you don't need "lean top round, thinly sliced". My local grocery often has ground beef for $0.99/lb discounted for quick sale, and as long as I have room in the freezer, I always snap it up and freeze it. That's what I plan on using.

The yams and the butternut squash are destined for creamy squash and apple soup, to be served with cornbread.

Oh, and finally, some rind from lemons and oranges went into this (soooooo good, much-complimented) spiked cider, served at a party. You can use normal apple juice and normal brandy, and it still turns out just fine. I added a few extra peppercorns and allspice berries though, to make it a bit spicier, as well as putting in a bit more juice (and brandy - but not much more, I think). I also added some cardamom pods because, hey, cardamom! It was super-yummy.

Well, that's it. That's our CSA for the fortnight. I'm really enjoying the challenge of figuring out what to do with the produce each week. But I think I need a field guide to greens.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s.

Monday, November 30, 2009

nursing mother sculpture


My husband took this picture for me at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. We've been there many times - we started going there together with a group of friends before we fell in love, then we went while we were dating, then after we were married, and now we go with our kids. But I don't remember seeing this before. Or perhaps I did, and I just wasn't at a stage of life where I would have noticed. But isn't it lovely? It's done in bronze, and the plaque beside it said it used to hang on the door of a nursery armoire.

If you want to see more detail, I believe you can click on it to make it larger.

Last time we went, I also got to sit for awhile and stare at my favorite painting in the world. The link doesn't do it justice; the real thing is huge, and what's striking about it is how all the activity in the foreground only serves to draw your eye to the small, bright church spire in the background. In the background, but nonetheless, at the center of the whole world. It's an amazing painting. In real life that church spire is astonishingly bright and clear. I also love the woman walking on the bridge, and those huge trees bending down towards the water.

And now I need to make a plan to go back there again. Man, I love that place.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 29, 2009

monoamniotic twins - the board's back up!

This probably won't matter to most of my readers, but just in case someone's looking:

Monoamniotic.org is the best place for information on monoamniotic twins (identical twins sharing an amniotic sac, a rare and dangerous complication experienced by my two youngest children), and it was down for a few months because of a virus. Just wanted to note, with joy, that it's back up, so if you've found this site because you were looking for info on mo-mo's, let me send you their way. It's a site full of both good information and amazingly supportive people.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Advent Carnival!

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and over at A Ten O' Clock Scholar, Kerry has the Advent Carnival up. There are lots of meditations on and ideas for the season. Head on over!

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell



Monday, November 23, 2009

Christ the King Sunday

Yesterday was my favorite Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday. And we heard a really good sermon, which I'm still thinking about.

The priest asked us to think about how many of us would raise our hands if he asked if we knew Christ as our Savior, then asked us to think about how many of us would raise our hands if he asked if we knew Christ as our king. 

There was a lot to the sermon - he talked about how the good king must be obeyed, and how he protects his people from their enemies, and how he heals (he drew a lot from Tolkien's Aragorn character, which I think is fair, given Tolkien's theology) - but what is sticking in my head this morning is his challenge, asking if we were willing to do the things our King asks us to do. Basically: do you respect Jesus Christ's authority in your life?

I want to keep thinking about that this week, checking to see if I am listening and obeying, using my moments and my days the way my Lord would have me use them, because He is my Lord, and He is my king. This is challenging, because I would like to think that I own my moments and my days.

Connected to this, on the theme of self-examination, I've been reading some John Donne, and last night came across a place in one of his sermons where he says (emphasis mine):

You hear of one man that was drowned in a vessel of wine, but how many thousands in ordinary water? And he was no more drowned in that precious liquor, than they in that common water. A gad of steel does no more choke a man, than a feather, than a hair; Men perish with whispering sins, nay with silent sins, sins that never tell the conscience they are sins, as often as with crying sins: And in hell there shall meet as many men, that never thought what was sin, as that spent all their thoughts in the compassing of sin; as man, who in a slack inconsideration, never thought  upon that place, as that by searing their conscience, overcame the sense and fear of that place. Great sins are great possessions, but levities and vanities possess us too. *

It seems to be a good meditation to go into Advent on.

peace of Christ to you, 

Jessica Snell


*From a sermon preached March 4, 1625

Saturday, November 21, 2009

too much fiction

I've been having trouble picking up novels recently. I've been reading lots of non-fic, but, though I have several appealing novels waiting to be read, every time I reach out, I find myself pulling my hand back and saying, "I just can't."

It was puzzling me. At first I thought it was Harry Potter/Twilight hangover. Had reading about 8 very easy-to-read books in a row spoiled me for trying anything not quite so easy to digest? Plausible, but then why was I still devouring things like "Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grand Armee"?

But today I figured it out. It was my own book that was taking up all my headspace. Bujold said that while you're in the middle of writing a novel, it feels like you're constantly using your active memory to carry around enough information to fill a phone book.

I don't want to dive into Liad or Shrewsbury or even (heaven forbid!) someone else's version of Regency London when my mind is every minute filled with the thoughts and emotions of my hero and heroine, puzzling at their dilemmas and feeling their fears and delights. Until I get the whole story down and out of active RAM, I'm not sure how easy it's going to be to give any of my imaginative headspace up for any other protagonists.

Which kind of sucks. Or it would, if I didn't find Thomas and Eve's story so compelling. I am writing exactly the sort of story that I love to read. (Action, adventure, true love!) It's the best sort of interactive narrative, where I at once get to watch what happens and make it up.

But when this is over, when it is all, all over (and I'm about 25,000 words into what I think will be a 75,000 word story), I am going to go seek out some old friends, and spend a week or two with Miles Vorkosigan, Peter and Harriet, Val Con and Miri, and maybe even Brother Cadfael. I miss them.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Music and what it does to our days

Recently, I've found a permanent place for my laptop, which previously floated here and there around the house, seeking an abode free from one-year-old fingers.

It now lives on the back of the sewing desk, next to a pair of speakers. This means that it's suddenly easy for me to plug it in and use iTunes. Thanks to the speakers, I can here the music from anywhere in the first floor of our condo, and can sing along to Rich Mullins or Sandra McCracken while I'm doing the dishes or chopping veggies.

Honestly, it's a childhood fantasy come true. I remember being a teenager, listening to the radio as I drove, and wishing that every time I heard a song I didn't like, I could hit a delete button and have it vanish from the station's playlist. I'd do this for a few weeks, and eventually every song that remained would be one I loved. It'd be my own private radio station, playing everything from country music to Bach to the Eagles to hymns to Irish jigs to Rich Mullins.

And modern mp3 technology? Makes my radio daydream a reality. I plug in my computer and turn on a playlist and suddenly the house is filled with my own personal soundtrack. Depending on the day, it might be a playlist called "sursum corda!" or "Saturday" or "commitment" or the always bouncy "danceable".

I go through long periods of time when I forget to play music, and then I rediscover (brilliance!) that we actually own cds and mp3s and suddenly the house is ringing with song from morning till night. I don't know why I forget, but I'm glad right now that I'm remembering. Music makes the good days brighter, the drudgery joy and the suffering meaningful.

What about you? Does music make a difference to how your days go?

Currently I'm enjoying John Tams' version of "Over the Hills and Far Away", Caedmon's Call's "Volcanoland", Fiction Family's "Look for Me Baby", Johnny Cleg's "Dela", Michael Card's "Walking on Water", Johnathan Coulton's "Mr. Fancy Pants", Andrew Peterson's "Matthew's Begats" and, as always, Sandra McCracken's "Springtime Indiana".

What are your favorite songs to listen to right now?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, November 16, 2009

menu planning with our csa basket

I blogged about getting our first official CSA basket here, and now I've menu-planned, and we've starting using all those green goodies.

A lot of them are just going to be straight-up snacks. This includes the kiwi, pears, grapefruit, apples, oranges, celery, cucumber, beets (roasted and sliced) and persimmons.

On Friday, the green onions and the basil (yes, all of it!) went into this pasta dish. I tweaked it by adding some canned mushrooms and Chinese five spice powder (star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and pepper). It was SO GOOD.

Tonight we're using the green beans in this yummy red Thai curry. If you serve it over brown rice, you'll get a hefty dose of protein, but if you want a little more, it's great with salted cashews sprinkled on top. (btw, cashews can be bought at a decent price at both Sam's Club and Trader Joe's - if you buy the "bits and pieces" versions.)

The curry recipes is something I've made before, and it's fast becoming a favorite. It also looks like it would be easy to tweak it to include whatever fresh veggies you have on hand. Since I used up all my fresh basil on Friday, I used frozen-in-a-tube basil for the curry. (This ends up being a remarkably good value. It's sold refrigerated, but you can freeze it after the first use and it stays good. Much better than the $10000/oz., four-leaves-to-a-box version it's sold next to in the grocery store.)

The zucchini became chocolate zucchini bread, and I must admit, it's the best (i.e., least zucchini-tasting) zucchini bread I've ever had. I let the kids try it this afternoon, and they started bargaining to have it for breakfast this week. (I said yes. I'd still rather they eat it than me.)

The chard and beet greens I cooked up together and froze to use later in the week in quiche and in bee-bim-bop. (Yes, that children's picture book contains the recipe that we use. And it's really good - both the recipe and the book. Also - and this isn't the biggest reason it's a good book, but it's something I like - the family in the book prays together before they dig into the yummy, yummy meal.) The carrots are destined to go in this dish too.

The might-have-been-kale that I'm now guessing was actually collard greens got much too crispy when I attempted to make crispy kale. But the marinade was good, so I'm going  to try it again sometime and watch it more closely.

Finally, the cabbage is going into this unstuffed cabbage casserole.

And the flowers are still looking pretty on my counter. :)

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

gold coins for St. Nicholas and the Advent Blog Carnival

First, I'd like to point out that Kerry of A Ten'o'Clock Scholar is hosting an Advent Blog Carnival. Please see her post here for detailed instructions on how to enter your post.  (It's really easy: just write a post about Advent - what it means to you, how you're preparing, what your plans for celebrating it are, etc. - and send the link to Kerry before the Nov. 27 deadline. The carnival will go live on Nov. 28, so that all of us can read each other's ideas for the season just as it's starting.)

Second, I discovered today that Trader Joes has lovely little bags of gold chocolate coin - perfect to put in your kids' shoes on St. Nicholas' day!

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

what was in our CSA basket this week



The first picture is how it looked packed in the basket, and the second is everything spread out on our table (so pretty!).
What we had was:
-sunflowers
-yellow flowers (chysanthamums?)
-kiwi
-pears
-oranges
-a grapefruit
-persimmons
-apples
-carrots
-celery
-beets w/ greens
-red chard
-kale? maybe?
-green onions
-green beans
-basil
-zucchini (ack, ick, uck!)
-cucumbers
Most of it is from the farm our CSA is with, but they partner with a few other organic farms to supply things they can't grow - like the kiwi.
Now I'm going to sit down with my recipe book and this lovely book and the internets and figure out what we're going to eat this next week!
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Joining a CSA - I feel like such a nerd

I'm picking up my first CSA basket today, and I'm just giddy about it. All that produce! And what will it be? And what will I make from it? There might be veggie fried rice in our future. Or Thai red curry or squash soup or oven-roasted potatoes. People, there could be quiche.
See me, awash with nerdy glee.
I've been interested in CSAs for a long time, but there's never been one with a pick-up close to me. But two weeks ago, my sister told me that she was picking up a CSA basket for a friend, who was traveling in Peru. Apparently you can't cancel your pick-up just because you're on vacation, so she'd asked my sister if she wanted it. Laurel said yes, but then she ended up having a meeting during the pick-up time, so she asked if I wanted to pick it up.
Totally!
Anyway, it was so much fun to go to the pick-up (which I gather is a newish one), just about a fifteen minute drive from home (when traffic is good), and find a group of baskets waiting in the shade, full of fruits and veggies and herbs and topped with bouquets of bright yellow, spicy-scented flowers. I smiled all the way home, the smell of basil wafting from the huge basket on the passenger seat of our minivan.
Then at home, I got to unpack it, and found, in addition to the flowers:
-a big bunch of basil, both green and purple
-a big bunch of parsley
-a bunch of beets, greens intact
-a bunch of chard, both green and red
-two heads of green-leaf lettuce, one head of red-leaf and one head of iceberg
-cucumbers
-a zucchini (well, you can't win them all . . .)
-apples
-pears
-persimmons
-an ear of pretty decorative corn
-a small pumpkin
And I'm probably forgetting some of it - after all, it's been two weeks. My sister came over and we split up the produce - Laurel being Laurel, she generously left us the lion's share. And the next day I called the CSA and signed up. (I also made pesto, processed and froze the parsley, cooked the chards and beet greens together, etc, etc . . .)
I think it'll work well for us, because the pick-up is every other Wednesday, and I menu-plan on a two week schedule, so I'm just going to plan our menus on Wednesdays, after I see what's in our basket. Then I can shop Thursday and/or Friday for whatever extras we need.
So . . . I'm spending the day doing the dishes, reading to the kids, teaching Bess math and Gamgee how to spell his name . . . but inside I'm bouncing up and down and chanting whadyabringme?whadyabringme? and wishing my basket were already here.
I'm telling you: such a nerd. Such a nerd.
:)
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell
p.s. This guy is also a nerd (um, I mean, "geek"), so maybe I'm not in bad company. ("I've seen him on the youtube, I said . . .")

(hat tip to my brother for the video)
p.p.s. For my friends who live in the area, the CSA is run by South Coast Farms, and the pick-up I'm using is at Cal State Fullerton.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What I've Been Reading, Part IV

Full disclosure: I’m leaving at least one book out of this list, because it was so much fun I’m buying it as a Christmas present for several people, some of whom read this blog.

That said, here’s the list of what I’ve been reading lately, with short comments on each book. Some of the books deserved their own entries, which I’ve already published, so I’ve included links to those.

FICTION:
To Trade the Stars – Czerneda, Julie E. –The end of a trilogy, the beginning of which I wrote about here. This was a very fun sci-fi romp, and if you’re a fan of space opera at all, I recommend it.
Migration – Czerneda, Julie E.
Regeneration – Czerneda, Julie E. – Migration and Regeneration were also the end of a trilogy, and I think I liked it even better than the trilogy that ended with To Trade the Stars. The science part of the sci-fi was heavily weighted towards the biological, and Czerneda’s alien species were fascinating. I also loved the main character, and found her interaction with her students and friends so charming that my children learned the teasing chant, “No ribs for Mac! No ribs for Mac! Mac gets salad and BEER!” (Um, guess you had to be there.) Anyways, though the start of each book is a little slow, I highly recommend this series. (And it also gets the coveted “appeals to both sexes award”, as my husband gobbled up this series too.)

Harmony – Bentley, C. F. – this was an easy read, and fairly pleasant, but I never really got caught up in the characters. I don’t know quite how to respond to it, because she wrote a really interesting world, and the fact that it was a thick tome that nonetheless flowed quickly shows that she knows how to put a story together. I suppose I’d say read it if you’re a spec fic fan who wants a pleasant weekend read, but don’t expect to get hooked.

Stand-In Groom – Dacus, Kaye – I liked this even though it was set in the South. (Um, I have a thing about books set in the South.) Pleasant, engaging characters and a fun situation. Plus, who doesn’t like reading about weddings?
Only Uni –Tang, Camy – This had some of the most realistic characters I’ve run into in Christian fiction. I especially liked how Tang detailed all of the heroine’s family dynamics, good and bad. Often romances seem to have no one in them but the hero and the heroine, but these two main characters – like most of us in the real life – inhabited a world of all sorts of good, bad and weird people. I liked this one too.

Betsy-Tacy and Tib – Lovelace, Maud Hart – What can I say? I liked these books as a girl, and reading them out loud to my own daughter, I like them even more.

Catching Fire – Collins, Suzanne – this was the sequel to The Hunger Games (see my review here), and almost as compelling. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. Be careful, this is one that will gobble up all of your free time (and some of your not-so-free time) until you get to the end.

NON-FICTION
Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – Snyder, Blake – I read this on a friend’s recommendation and was glad I did. Though I’m not a screenwriter, and had to disregard some of the advice because of that (e.g., novelists can handle backstory and internal dialogue in a different manner than screenwriters can), Blake’s advice on story structure and story types was priceless.

The Course of French History – Goubert, Pierre – I skimmed this and didn’t read it in its entirety; it was more research for my novel. One of the weirdest parts about it was reading about our Revolutionary War from the point of view of a French historian. (The biggest point about it in his mind seemed to be how far helping us out put France into debt.)

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education – Berquist, Laura – This book was very encouraging as I started looking at homeschooling last spring. Our kindergarten this year is based on her suggested structure, and it’s working well.
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home Bauer, Susan Wise and Wise, Jessie – Goodness, this one should probably be in the “deserves its own post” category, but I’m not sure I could do it justice even then. Enough to say that this book comprises most of my game plan for going forward with this homeschooling venture (for as long as we do). I’m not following it to the letter, but I think that in this book Wise and Bauer have outlined the education all of us wish we could have had.
100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right curriculum and Approach for Your Child’s Learning Style – Duffy, Cathy – This was another very worthy skim. Great for seeing what’s out there and getting ideas.

Introduction to the Devotional Life – de Sales, St. Francis – This took me almost all year to read, because I read it a bit at a time, but it was amazing. I would be starting back at the beginning again – it seems like the sort of book one could profitably read every year – except that I have another of his that I want to start in its place.
You know how the first time you read C.S. Lewis, you thought, “how could I not have seen the world this way before? Of course! It’s all so clear!”? This is that kind of book. God be praised for his servant, Francis de Sales.

Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Inner Strength – Helgoe, Laurie, PhD – I found the actual information about introversion in this book fascinating and helpful, but ended up skimming because the author talked a lot about her own journey of accepting herself as an introvert, and that was less interesting than her research. Still, if you’re an introvert who’s interested in finding more about why you are how you are, I’d recommend picking this up. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. (Also, I nominate this book as the winner for the “Lame Title Totally Redeemed by an Awesome Subtitle” Award.)

THEIR OWN POSTS:
The Actor and the Housewife – Hale, Shannon

The No S Diet – Engels, Reinhard and Kallen, Ben

Twilight – Meyer, Stephanie
New Moon – Meyer, Stephanie
Eclipse – Meyer, Stephanie
Breaking Dawn – Meyer, Stephanie


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Rowling, J. K.

Friday, November 6, 2009

links!

Okay, serious stuff first. This account of how gay marriage is beginning to affect people in the workplace is scary. A man lost his job because he stated that his religious beliefs did not allow him to accept it. Not because he was harassing anyone. Because he had an opinion. Yikes.

Jen of Conversion Diary on what having an empowered birth really means. So true.

This map of where all the characters are throughout the Lord of the Rings is AWESOME. I want it for my wall.

An excerpt (the first chapter) of a soon-too-be-published Twilight parody. Having half-giggled/half-groaned my way through the books, I think it's hi-la-ri-ous. Example:
One nice thing about my dad is, as an old person, his hearing isn't too great. So when I closed the door to my room, unpacked, cried uncontrollably, slammed the door, and threw my clothes around my room in a fit of dejected rage, he didn't notice. It was a relief to let some of my steam out, but I wasn't ready to let all of it out yet. That would come later, when my dad was asleep and I was lying awake thinking about how ordinary kids my age are.
Or this description of the hero:
Edwart continued to jab at his computer. With each pounding finger I could see the blood surging through the bulging veins on his forearms to his biceps, straining against the tight- fitted, white Oxford shirt pushed cavalierly to his elbows as though he had a lot of manual labor to do. Why was he typing so loudly? Was he trying to tell me something? Was he trying to prove how easy it would be for him to fling me up into the sky and then catch me tightly in his arms, whispering that he would never share me with anyone else in the entire world? I shuddered and smiled coyly, terrified.
I want to know how to shudder and smile coyly at the same time, while terrified. That'd be neat! (heehee)

Finally, this William Shatner video is just . . . well, it's just . . . um . . .


peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book Review: the No S Diet

This is a nifty little book that started as a nifty little website.

Basically, this is a computer programmer’s idea of what a healthy, life-long eating program ought to look like, and he came up with it after being frustrated by how complicated most other diet plans are.

His website really has all you need to follow the diet – and it really is easy: no Sweets, no Snacks, no Seconds, except, maybe, on days starting with S – but he wrote the book as a kind of FAQs, and I enjoyed reading the plan fleshed out a bit more.

I’ve been trying his plan for the past, oh, two months or so, and it really is workable. I’ve modified it to exclude fruits and veggies from the “snacks” category, because I just am going to have a banana most mornings, you know?

His website also has a cool little program called a “habitcal” that I’ve been digging. It’s a calendar that you can fill in every day in either red (for failed), green (succeeded) or yellow (exceptions – like holidays or sick days) for any habit you’re trying to establish. I’m using it right now for No S’ing, exercise, writing 1000 words/day and homeschooling. All of those things are things I do regularly at this point, but I’d like to get even better at them, and seeing in color how often I’m succeeding is really motivating. It’s a free program, so I recommend checking it out.

All in all, this is the most sensible eating plan I’ve ever read about, and you can easily tweak it to include things you care about, like using whole grain products or eating seasonally. Unless my life changes dramatically (always possible!), I’m planning on using this as my basic plan from here on out.

I’d add that this comes at a good time for me, because I’ve spent most of the past six years either pregnant or nursing, and now that those special nutritional demands are over, I’ve been trying to figure out how to eat as an adult for what feels like the first time. Having this as my basic eating plan and the 30 Day Shred as my basic exercise plan helps me feel like I’m good to go, at least for now. I know that the Lord alone knows what’s coming up, but for now, it’s nice to have something to be going on with.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: The Actor and the Housewife, by Shannon Hale

Before I say anything else, I have to say: I loved this book. I loved the characters, I loved the set-up, I loved the dialogue, I loved the descriptions, I loved it all. If my writing could have half so much joie de vivre as Hale’s, I’d die content.

And, before I say more than that, I must say: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. Go read the book yourself first. Though I warn you, you will probably both laugh out loud and cry your eyes out.

This book is about the friendship between Mormon stay-at-home-mom Becky and British heartthrob film star Felix (think Colin Firth or Hugh Grant – though, true to my own prejudices, I kept thinking of him as Hugh Laurie). Despite what that set-up might lead you to believe, this isn’t a “oh-we-can’t-help-ourselves-we-must-be-unfaithful-to-our-spouses” book. It’s actually about a friendship. Though Hale doesn’t avoid the debate about whether or not two people of the opposite sex can be friends without falling in love (actually, a lot of the plot hinges on that very debate), she keeps her main characters from taking the despicable route.

BIG SPOILER.

The real surprise of this book is that it ends up being a theodicy. You don’t find out this is what the author is doing until the very end of the book. But it does, indeed, turn out to be a thesis on, “if there is a God who is both all-powerful and all-just, how can you explain human suffering?” Though I end up disagreeing somewhat with how Hale answers this, I am simply in awe at her attempting it in the first place, and also in admiration over the cleverness of her answer.

I think the difference between her Mormon theology and my Christian theology shows in the answer. In the end (SPOILER, SPOILER, SPOILER), I think that the way Becky views marriage (as an eternal partnership, vs. the Christian idea that the dead neither marry nor are they given in marriage) decides her against marrying Felix after her husband’s death in a way that wouldn’t have been true if she weren’t a Mormon. My guess is that, written by a Christian, she would have married again, and it would have been a more satisfactory ending. I also wish the idea of suffering existing because of sin had been addressed, along with things like the redemptive work of Christ. But I love Hale’s idea that God was present through Becky’s whole marriage and whole friendship, and saw what was coming, and was taking care of her before she even knew she was going to need taking care of. I’ve never seen a book that attempted quite what Hale attempts here, and I’m seriously impressed. I want to read more by this author.

I think there’s more debate that can be had on this story (Emily read it too, and we had a great conversation on whether Becky and Felix’s friendship would actually be possible in the real world), but this is a wonderful book. Hale’s descriptions on Becky’s good marriage and happy household ring so true and so beautiful, and the conversations between Becky and Felix are laugh-out-loud funny and a delight to read. I read this book all the way through, and enjoyed it so much that I suggested to my husband that we read it together, which we did during our evening chore time (taking turns reading it out loud while the other worked) and we both enjoyed it immensely.

Lots to think about, and even more to enjoy. Shannon Hale, if you ever in any Google search run across this review, you have my sincere thanks for many happy hours spent in reading a really good story.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. I just want to say that I’m aware that any Mormon readers are likely to disagree with my assessment of how Ms. Hale’s theology influenced the conclusion, and also in my opposition of “Mormon theology” to “Christian theology”. I don’t know quite what to say about that, except that I know you wouldn’t put it the way I did, and that I know it’s a real source of disagreement (i.e., I look at it and sincerely think “X” and you look at it and sincerely think “Y”). But if you’re here, I’m glad you’re here, and I hope the disagreement isn’t enough to make you feel you need to leave. If anything, I hope you take it as an invitation to conversation.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Review: the End of the Harry Potter Series

This is another post in the What I've Been Reading series.

Okay, I came late to the Harry Potter party, and there are a couple of reasons for that. The funny thing is, having finished the series, I still have those original objections. It’s just that (in a reversal of my impression of the Twilight series), the virtues outweigh the flaws. (See my frank admiration for the end of the series posted here.)

Let’s start with the flaws, just to get them out of the way. I read the first three books not long after they came out, and what I observed that made me stop was
1) It was portrayed that part of true friendship was helping your friends cheat. There was at least one character who wasn’t accepted until he’d broken the rules and there was a regular pattern of Hermione proving her friendship by doing Ron and Harry’s work for them.
Eventually, breaking the rules becomes necessary because the powers-that-be prove themselves to be evil and, well, fair enough. But the pattern of cheating-as-virtue is never spoken against, and even though I love the series as a whole, this still bothers me.
2) Using words that mean one thing in the real world as meaning something very different in the fantasy world. Particularly “witches”. Now, bear with me here – remember that I’ve read the whole series and liked it, so I’m not just being reactionary. :)

As someone who’s lived where real witchcraft was going on, I have a real objection to watering down the only English word we have for those activities by having it mean “female person who can do magic in fantasy world” rather than "person who gets real spiritual power by consorting with evil spirits". Yes, we should be able to distinguish between “witch” in fiction and “witch” or “witch doctor” in real life. But the truth is the humans are funny creatures, and fiction can sometimes deaden us to reality. How many people don’t take the idea of a devil seriously anymore because they’ve seen too many pictures of a little red man with horns? So, much as I like this series, I really wish Rowling had used “wizard” for both her male and her female characters, rather than misusing "witch". (And this objection stands in for some of the other things she uses in her stories.)

BUT . . . that said, wow, what an amazing series. Especially as it wound towards its conclusion, this became a story about all the best themes in the world, especially “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (I wrote a bit about that here.)

I’m sorry that I can’t make the positive part of my review as long as the negative part, but how can I top the stories themselves? The long, hard journey that Harry and his friends make at the end reminds me of no less than the journeys of Frodo and Samwise, or Eustace and Jill.

The thing I love most, I think, is how she conveys that truth that when you have no choice for victory but to walk willingly into doom, you still have a choice. If you have things you have to do, you still can choose to do them. There is a difference between being dragged kicking and screaming, and bowing your head and deciding to walk willingly forward as the necessary sacrifice. She did this so well. I am all admiration, and look forward very much to reading this series again.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. I also have to add: how much fun were these books? Such colorful characters, such intricate plotting, such interesting creatures and tricks and classes and settings! Just plain fun.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Book Review: the Twilight Series

Before I publish my next What I’ve Been Reading list (see previous entries here, here and here), I’m going to review a few books that deserve their own posts. I'll take the week to do that, and then publish the next What I've Been Reading list at the end of the week, with shorter reviews on the books that don't get individual posts.

I'm starting with the Twilight books. I wrote a bit about them already here, and now I’ve finished it. I have to say, I like the first book best of the series. I think its strength is the interesting tension between the normal high school world and the weird parallel world of the vampires. In subsequent books, there’s less and less normal world, and so less and less contrast. By the last book, you’re almost totally enveloped in the parallel world, and you suddenly see why Edward didn’t think eternal undead existence was such a prize (“oh, he was . . . right.”).

Props to Stephanie Meyer for writing a fun series. It’s engrossing and fun to read. I couldn’t write an honest review without saying that first.

But I still come back to what I thought at the beginning: this series’ prime virtue is its entertainment value, not anything else. And I have to admit, that though I see what she was going for, I found the Cullen family progressively creepier the more they were explained. Their lack of bravery in taking on the evil vampires (“go ahead and kill everyone else – just leave the people we actually care about alone”) was understandable and even sympathetic, but made them somewhat less than heroic. Yes, in the world as presented, going on a crusade would be a hopeless cause, but wouldn’t it have been glorious? I mean, it’s fantasy after all . . .

Also, I couldn’t get past the problems in Bella and Edward’s relationship. I know it’s been exhaustively critiqued elsewhere, and I’m not saying anything new, but I found it emotionally abusive and semi-stalkerish. Again, it works within the world-as-created, but you can’t make it happily parallel anything in real life, and that’s problematic, I think, for books aimed at teenagers.

The last book was my least favorite. Bella’s experience of motherhood wasn’t anything I recognized from reality (and the author did, to her credit, acknowledge this within the story) and despite the rules of the universe, I found the resolution of Jacob’s plotline really creepy. Also, (SPOILER) I don’t understand having an entire book build up to an epic fight at the end, and then having the epic fight never actually take place.

So . . . I feel awful doing this, because it’s a rip-roaring yarn, and I honestly admire any author who can write so compellingly, but I have to admit that I think the flaws outweigh the virtues in these books, at least for young audiences, even though the first book, at least, is great fun.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

journaling as a spiritual discipline

I’ve kept a journal regularly since the first day of eighth grade which would be, oh, fifteen years ago. Wow.

Not daily, mind, but regularly. And it’s funny to see how it’s changed. For me, journaling has always been more about personal growth than about remembering what’s happened, though I have my share of those entries. The “this is so wonderful, I just need to get it down so I never forget” sort of entries.

But more, journaling has been about figuring out what I’m feeling and what I think. I’ve often said, “I don’t know what I think until I read it” and that’s true. When I don’t journal, I feel lost and confused, because my thoughts are disordered. If I can get my thoughts down on paper, I know what they are, and then they’re contained and I can examine them. After examining them, I can pray about them, think about them, and decided what to do about them.

Not being a complete idiot, I get rid of any journal entries I really, truly, never want anyone to see. Most of them aren’t like that though. I mean, I’d be embarrassed to have anyone read my journal, but I’d probably be more embarrassed for whoever read it than I would be for myself, because I think it’d say more about their character than it would about mine. No one who knows me would be surprised at, say, the amount of anxiety present in my journal entries, you know? Most of my habitual sins aren’t that invisible, sadly.

Which leads me to why I’m writing this blog post: people often think of journals as secret, sacred spaces. But I’m coming more and more to view mine as a tool. As a necessary part of keeping myself spiritually disciplined. And I think largely that’s because I am, and always have been, a writer. And unless I incorporate writing into my spiritual life, my spiritual life is not integrated, not whole.

I wonder if it’s the same for musicians? Do they have to – in addition to the hours they spend practicing or composing – spend time just playing for the joy of it? Or in earnest worship? Or in emotive release?

Is it a need for anyone who has a talent (and everyone has some kind of talent) to sometimes use it not for production, but for calibration? Journaling feels like a tune-up; it’s how I get my heart in line with my head in line with my body.

I still record momentous events – well, sometimes. I still pour out my frustrations – well, occasionally.

But mostly, I circle ‘round the areas in my life where I’m trying to build virtue, where I’m trying to defeat vice. I look at my various goals: a better devotional life, better mothering, better writing, better housekeeping, better health, a good marriage, better friendships, and I ask, is what I’m doing working? How can I fix this? What’s worth keeping here and what do I have to prune?

And then I pray about them - in writing. Lord help me, help them, help us. May your will be done.

It’s centering and it’s calming. It’s a tool for peace.


So . . . am I the only one? And if it’s not journaling in your life, what is it? What do you use to calibrate yourself? To present the turmoil of your soul to the Lord and submit your life to His will? To accept His presence, His instruction, His peace? I’m very curious if it’s writing for anyone else, and if it isn’t writing, what it is.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, October 31, 2009

links!

If you're going to read one thing here, read Amy's post on Desert Spirituality over at On A Joyful Journey. It's a further meditation on the journey God lead her on after she lost her oldest daughter, and exactly where He took her is a wonder.

A church in my old diocese has been forced out of their property:

In the days leading up to the turnover, there were few visible signs of change at the church. One, however, was unmistakable, contained in a message from the Book of Hebrews on the marquee out front. "You joyfully accepted confiscation of your property," it read.

On Sunday, Holman plans to preach about its meaning, quoting from the remainder of the passage as he tells parishioners that their fight for their principles will bring "better and lasting possessions" -- a reference, he said, to Jesus.


Then, given the day, here is a post appropriate for All Hallow's Eve, Not Afraid of the Dead.

And, for tomorrow, Susanne Dietz writes For All the Saints.


I'm thinking of making this coiled cloth basket - so pretty!

And the obligatory YouTube videos:
Love this - the best moment is when he first takes the audience to a new note, and they all laugh in delight as they realize what they just did:

And this video makes me think that sometimes it just really is worth it to work really really hard to train your body to do something that delights you. (Which is why I'm considering taking up the unicycle.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

next year's devotional plan

I’m almost to the end of my year of reading through the Bible. And part of me just wants to dive right in and start again. I can feel it changing how I view the world. But I think I’m going to make reading all the way through an every-other-year thing. That sounds unsatisfactory right now, but if I take the long view, and think about having it be every other year for the rest of my life, that sounds okay. (I know I can't know what's going to happen or if there even is going to be a rest of my life, this is just the plan I'm going with, if the Lord wills it to be so.)

I think next year I want to memorize big chunks of it.

But how big? And which chunks? That’s what I’m thinking about.

Top contenders in my mind right now:
1) memorize a gospel. Probably John or Mark.
2) memorize Ephesians.
3) memorize James.
4) memorize James and Ephesians.
5) memorize the top Psalms (i.e., Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 1, Psalm 90, etc.)
6) Choose 12 long passages and memorize one per month. Go for some prophets, some wisdom lit, some gospel, some epistles.
7) memorize one epistle, and a few other long passages.

So . . . yeah. Too much good stuff! :D

Part of it is that I want to really let some of what I’m reading this year sink deep, deep, deep. Also, memorizing scripture will also, I think, change how I look at the world, and in the right way. I want Christian eyes and a Christian mouth, and for that I need a Christian heart. I want to read the words over and over again, until they get so familiar that they're boring, and then until they get so familiar that they are amazing.

I also need to decide what version I’m memorizing in. I have a strong leaning towards King James, just because it’s the most beautiful, but I don’t want to lose any meaning in out-of-date or inaccurate translation. I don’t want to do NASB because it’s clunky, and I don’t want to do NIV because it over-translates in parts (nope, I'm still not over "flesh" being translated as "sin nature").

I suppose if I have the whole year to memorize it, I’ll have plenty of time to read it in a couple of other translations, so doing it in King James shouldn’t jeopardize my understanding of the passages or book. I can make sure I know what the words me, and educate myself about any inaccuracies.

Anyone have any good translation suggestions? Anyone else interested in making 2010 a year of Bible memorization? (It'd be cool to have a few partners in the venture, even if we weren't memorizing the same parts.)

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. I suppose it should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: the biggest thing I'm doing in order to make this decision is laying it before the Lord in prayer. It might be that I get to choose, but I want to know if there is something specific He wants me to do (maybe I'm not even supposed to be memorizing!).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Songs I know about because of youtube

There are a few songs I wouldn't know about were it not for the wonders of youtube. And yes, I now own all of them, the better to enjoy them. (Pay those artists!) Maybe you'll like them too. Happy weekend to y'all!

(I'm not sure this is the video that originally introduced me to this song - some of the art is kind of goofy, and I don't remember that - but it's a great song, nonetheless.)


Love this!


(I might have linked to this before, but the stop-motion photography is really amazing.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

going grey

I just read a long thread in the well-trained mind forums about hair-dying. It was really funny, because most of the responses were something along the lines of "well, I'm fine with others going grey, but I started going grey so early that I had to dye."

Which makes me think that, actually, it's probably pretty normal to start go grey in your twenties. We just don't think it is because there are so few women in our country who don't dye their hair.

I freely admit my bias: I dislike dyed hair. Doesn't make me think horribly of women who do, I just really prefer seeing real hair. I think it's more interesting.

But, whichever side of the (non)debate you fall on, isn't it weird to think that we see so little natural hair that we have no real idea anymore of when people commonly go grey? Or how much of the population actually is blonde? (A much smaller proportion than you'd think if you just go by how much blonde hair you see. Same for redheads.)

I think the funniest story about this I've heard comes from my mother, who has the most gorgeous hair I've ever seen (which, sadly, I didn't inherit). It's a deep gold. Just the loveliest dark blonde, with natural light highlights and red lowlights. And unlike most blondes, it's incredibly thick. (Did I mention that somehow it didn't get passed on to me?)

Okay, actually I like my hair. And with my olive skin, I'd make a really silly blonde. But still. Not fair. (Also not fair? The fact that my brother has long eyelashes and I don't. He's a boy! He doesn't need them!) (Um. Love you, Josh!)

Anyway, one day my mother was standing in line at the grocery store, and a lady waiting with her asked her where she'd had it done. My mom thanked her, but said that it was natural. The lady said, "No, where did you get it done?" "I was born with it." "No, really! Where . . ." The conversation continued along these lines for awhile, my mom insisting she was born with it, until the lady threw a fit and said, "Fine! Don't tell me!"

What's so funny about this story to me is that fake color has become so common in our society, that when someone sees the real thing, she can't believe it isn't fake. If I were a preacher, I'm sure I could get a moral out of that somehow.

My mom's hair is starting to go grey now, though it's hard to see, since the grey blends in with the blonde. My hair is going grey too, and it's easier to see, since I'm dark, although it's still just four or five hairs.

Will I dye my hair as the number increases? I don't know. I don't plan to, but I now you change your mind about things sometimes as you get older.

Though from what I've observed so far about my greys, I think I'd rather have their texture changed than their color! (And I could see dying my hair grey completely if the slow transition gets to be too much of a pain. Honestly, I'm hoping for my great-grandma's beautiful pure white.)

What about you? Do you think it's weird that seeing a grey-haired sixty-year old is less common than seeing a brunette one? Did you (like me) start to go grey in your twenties? Is our idea of what "looking old" is screwed up? Do you like dying your hair, and if so, do you think that fake highlights ever look as good as real ones? I know I'm in the minority on my opinion about how dyed hair looks, so I'm curious about what it looks like from the other side.

And again: no great moral point here, and no hate for those who are on the other side of this. It seems to me mainly about aesthetics. (Though here is a fascinating article about some of the possible sociological effects.) Any thoughts?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. Okay, I don't quite hate all dyed hair. I think that dyed hair that is an unnatural color (e.g., purple) is kind of fun. I don't like dyed hair that is trying to look natural, 'cause it's annoying. Dyed hair that's trying to look dyed? I think is kind of awesome. :)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Wow. Wow. That entire series was worth it for the last book. I don't know if I've ever read a book that concluded so well.

My hat off and the deepest of bows to J. K. Rowling. Wow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Harry Potter vs. the Cullens

I'm having a very weird literary experience right now: I'm reading both the end of the Harry Potter books and the end of the Twilight books - first time through, on both counts.

I'll follow with a fuller review of both later, but just now I have to say that they've very different from each other, despite both being YA fantasy.

I've read Stephanie Meyer says her books are about love. And I've read that J. K. Rowling says her books are about death. And I can see why they'd each say what they've said.

But here's the thing, as I go back and forth between the two series: I think they've got it switched. For one thing, Meyer's love reads a bit more like lust to my eyes, and I can't help but twine that with the theme of death, as in "the wages of sin is". (Despite her best efforts - and her stories are very compelling - the "undead" never lose their creepiness. If you think about it, that's probably a good thing.) And there is death aplenty in the Rowling's books, but I keep thinking of, "No greater love has a man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." For all about her stories that makes me uneasy, in their best sections, they're about that kind of love.

And then, when I think about that verse, the "no greater love" one, I think about what Jesus said next, that he has called us his friends . . . and then I'm not thinking of Rowling's books or Meyer's books at all, but rather about Jesus.

There's only so much you can say about death and love in fiction before your mind forces you back to the bright light of the real world in order to sit and contemplate the victorious One who by dying conquered death, and that because of the great love He has for mankind.

And so I'm back to wondering why I read fiction at all. Perhaps because even in its imperfection, fiction prompts us to ponder reality in deeper and deeper ways. Perhaps it's even the imperfection itself that prompts us toward meditating on God and his mercies. When we read world-building exercises that are lacking in some areas, it makes us think about how they're lacking, and what is really true, in the real world, the one God Himself made. The good parts of the fiction show us the glories we might, for our blindness, have missed on our own (like how Aslan makes you realize what joy really means) and the imperfections make you yearn for the real, God-created world again (like how Edward Cullen makes you shiver at the idea of an all-human eternity).

I don't know - and I'm not trying to start a Harry Potter fight or a Twilight fight. I think in both cases you can make a decent argument for reading them and a decent argument against. (Though, disclaimer: I'm pretty sure Twilight would be bad for teenage girls full-stop, and not because of the vampires, but because, though the heroine saves herself for marriage, she acts nothing like the way a real girl wishing to be chaste would need to act. If you want to be chaste in the real world, you have to flee temptation, not wallow in it. That's just the reality of making the decision to wait till marriage. You have to be like the little sister in the Song of Songs, you have to be a battlement. And in terms of how virtue is practiced, Twilight is wildly unrealistic, and I don't mean unrealistic in the "there are no werewolves in real life" kind of way. Fantasy is supposed to be unrealistic in that way. But virtue is supposed to translate pretty directly in fantasy; that's the point of the genre, really. Bella's actions are just bad modeling, and Meyer is so good at making her situation emotionally appealing that I think the book hangover could be very damaging at that stage of life. I'm sure there are exceptions, but fifteen-year-olds aren't known for their objectivity, you know?)

Okay, I got way off track there. Anyway, anyone else read both series and have the same impression? Oh, and am I going to change my mind when I read the last few books?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. Touchstone has an article in its upcoming issue about Twilight that sounds absolutely fascinating.

Finding Your Voice, or, It's All About Worldview

In writing circles, people talk a lot about "finding your voice". This confused me for a very long time, until I realized that what they meant - aside from being consistent stylistically - was "have a coherent worldview that you always write from". In other words: be a an integrated person, and let your writing come out of your true self. Also, hopefully? out of your mature self. (Um, make that, maturing self. As that process oughtn't to come to an end till death.)

Voice has a lot to do, I think, with what you think is important and with what you think is true. You're not supposed to write didactic books (i.e., stories where the moral is the point, rather than the story being the point), but on the other hand, nobody likes stories that lack a moral perspective (even if that perspective as simply as, "happy ever after is good" - a common moral in your basic romance). I think that "voice" is where that moral has to come in. It's not what's explicitly said in the narrative, it's what's implicitly assumed on the part of the author. And those implicit assumptions are a lot of what attract us to an author. For instance, one of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, has an implicit assumption that biology matters - that a person is not just soul, but body. Their bodies matter: their disabilities, their level of exhaustion, their gifts, their predispositions, etc. That always comes through in her stories. Her characters aren't just cerebral; their decisions always show up in their bodies or their actions. I appreciate that, and it's something that draws me to her books.

One day, when I was thinking about voice, and about mine in particular, I came across this quotation in Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel:

The gospel of grace calls us to sing of the everyday mystery of intimacy with God instead of always seeking for miracles or visions. It calls us to sing of the spiritual roots of such commonplace experiences as falling in love, telling the truth, raising a child, teaching a class, forgiving each other after we have hurt each other, standing together in the bad weather of life, of surprise and sexuality, and the radiance of existence. Of such is the kingdom of heaven, and of such homely mysteries is genuine religion made. The conversion from mistrust to trust is a confident quest seeking the spiritual meaning of human existence. Grace abounds and walks around the edges of our everyday experience.

I read that recently as I flipped through that book, looking for a certain anecdote. But, in all this thought about what my “voice” as an author is, I thought that this came close to describing it.

My voice is something like “domestic glory”. It’s about home and sex and God. It’s about seeing God’s glory in the middle of home. It’s about what “home” means. It’s about romance and dogged faithfulness. It’s about grace not just once, but every day. It’s about salvation in the midst of grinding tedium. It’s about how grinding tedium isn’t grinding tedium but is, on second glance “a long obedience in the same direction”. It’s about how we, male and female, reflect the glory of God. It’s about how a view of the mountains ravishes your soul but how you are not allowed to spend all your days gazing at the mountains. But about how someday that stomach-dropping thrill of terror and delight will be permanently yours when you fall down at the feet of Christ on the Mountain of the Lord. It’s about how sex is not a spectator sport, but how at the same time sex can be used as a metaphor for just about everything and how we put almost everything into it: hope, fear, delight, duty, joy, desire, anger, escape. And how it’s not just a metaphor, but our en-souled bodies acting out a spiritual truth: this is unity, the two shall be one, the two are still two. And there is fruit that comes of that, there's new life. And in life there is fecundity and there is intricacy and the waste is at war with the abundance, and not everything good survives but everyone who turns to Christ is saved. And life's a mess and we hate the mess and He hates the mess too, but He will come in triumph and judge the living and the dead. And it will one day be all put right and it will one day be finished.

Anyway, I’m babbling now. But this is something like what I’m about. That if you look very hard, you can see it. You can see God’s glory in everyday life. And that every day we walk in the midst of a story. Real life is NOT less interesting than fiction. And good fiction is NOT less true than real life. We walk in the midst of a story. We are not the authors. But if we look closely, we may be able to discern the author’s intent. And if we ask, He may help us to see it as He sees it.

So when I write, I write stories that try to say that. Not by saying all that, like I just did here. That would be non-fiction, and I'm just not that good at it. But this is my worldview; this is what other writers would call my "voice". And if I do my job well, when you read my stories, and follow my characters through their adventures, for an hour or two, you might see the world something like this.


And writing all that makes me remember, once more, why I have to be careful about what I read. Because my thoughts and emotions do tend to echo the novels I've read recently. In other words: there are authors out there who have really good, strong voices, and you should always beware of letting someone else into your head. :D

Anyone else get "book hangover"? And who gives it to you? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? Or, as I suspect, does it depend on the author?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Links:

Amy at A Joyful Journey writes about the living with the loss of her eldest daughter and the hope of Christ in Grief in the Shadows. This is the gospel. Thank you for sharing this, Amy.

For my fellow writers: This Is Your Job.

A post from Matt Kennedy: Why Read the Bible? I especially appreciate his reminder that we all worship something.

The customer's not always right . . . especially when it comes to those new-fangled computers. This is hilarious - thanks for the story, Josh!

And again, thanks to my brother: check out this ceiling covered in beetle carapaces. It's beautiful!

After reading up on growing out my hair, I couldn't help but find this trailer really interesting. I have no authority to speak to the issues this movie is about, but the way culture and personal appearance interact is eye-opening.


Hope you had a good weekend!
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, October 9, 2009

reading the New Testament after reading the Old

I'm reading the Bible chronologically this year, and I've just made it out of the Old Testament (yes, in October).

Wow. It's like when you've spent a few months watching TV shows on your little laptop and then you go over to a friend's house and see something on her HD. You thought you'd been watching before - and you had - and you thought'd you'd gotten the gist of it - and you had - but you had no idea how brilliant and big and glorious it all was.

Reading the gospels after reading all of the Old Testmanet is like that. My jaw keeps dropping.

I read Joseph addressed by the angel as "Son of David" and the weight of that label astounds me. He's introduced by the gospel writer as "a righteous man" and then, when he obeys the angel without question, you see that it's true. With his simple obedience and good heart, this is an Isrealite Jeremiah would have swooned over.

I hear the story of Jesus making a whip of cords and driving the merchants out of the temple and I almost can't catch my breath, because it's HIM, it's the LORD. It's the same Person, the same words, but all of the sudden He is a man and He's present and this is what the God of Jeremiah and Isaiah and Ezekiel does when He becomes incarnate. He chastizes and punishes, and yet spares, and He tells you why He's doing it and He cares. It's like the words of the prophets come to life and walking around. In fact, that's exactly what it is.

This isn't anything new and special; I think everyone who's read the OT and then the NT has probably seen this. But it's stopping me in my tracks with amazement nonetheless. Because it's the same personality. The continuity isn't in genre or time period or even cultural mores. But it's in person. Jesus is God. With the OT so fresh in my mind, I can see it in every word He speaks, in every action He does. This is the God who created, who loved, who chose, who guided, who dictated, who rebuked, who urged, who forgave, why will you die, oh Israel?, who promised. This is what God looks like when He becomes man, this is what He has to look like. This is why writing "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" was true. Because He was, and He is, and He will be.

Wow. Just, wow.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, October 5, 2009

falling in love, but not for real

So, as I was doing dishes, I was thinking about my WIP (work-in-progress). Specifically, I was trying to think of a good model for my heroine. There are actually a few real-life people she reminds me of, but I need a different physical model.

I read an interview recently where an author said that when she copies her friends’ personalities for her characters, her friends never notice unless she copies their looks too. As soon as she copies their looks, they say, “hey, that’s me!” But if she just copies their personalities, they never know it’s them.

I thought that was really funny.

Anyway, that’s part of the reason for finding a celebrity to serve as my heroine’s physical model. But here’s the creepy part (at least, when I discovered that this was true, I thought that it was a bit creepy): to write a romance, you have to be half in love with your characters. I mean, you have to be able to think like the heroine enough that you fall in love a bit with your hero. Otherwise, you can’t write her emotions properly. And you have to think like the hero enough to fall in love a bit with your heroine. The creepy part? Trying to fall in love a bit with a character that you’ve based on someone you know just feels really weird. Hence: the celebrity model.

(quick interjection here: my current hero and heroine are NOT based on anyone I know. For me, that's just too awkward, because if I truly based a character on a friend, how could I ever answer them if they asked? But they do remind me of a few people.)

But then I got to thinking: if it feels weird to fall in love a bit with someone you know, shouldn’t it feel weird to fall in love a bit with someone you don’t? with that celebrity model? Or, even more pertinently, with your character? Isn’t that a bit odd?

I suppose the first answer is: it's not really falling in love. It's just something like falling in love.

But after having said that, I don't think I have a good answer, at least not without defending fiction itself as an enterprise. The whole point of stories is to identify with the characters. You get scared alongside the hero, gird your loins for the battle when he does, groan at his defeat, wince at his stupidities, share in his triumphs – all this as if they were your own. Your arm is seconding his at every sword thrust.

And fiction, as such, seems pretty defensible. Parables, at least, are. And don’t we find ourselves there?

Which brings me back to my hero and heroine. The first point of novels, I think, is to entertain. Drawing you in is the point. Otherwise, you’d just read essays. If a novel is a message book, it’s a failed novel. Let’s get that clear.

On the other hand, if the novel has no message, it’s probably a failed story. But the message should come out of the story. The point is, that we live life. The point is, if we learn nothing from our life, we’ve lived it badly. It’s the same for our hero and heroine.

So, what about romances? Well, part of the point of reading romances – aside, of course, from the main point: reading a good story – is learning a bit more about what it is to love. How we ought to desire, to woo, too win. How to begin as we mean to go on. How to be begin at all. How to begin again.

(Which is part of why, btw, a certain variety of romance is crap. Because the answer of “how do I order my desires aright?” is not “by taking a thuggish brute, having lots of implausible s** with him, and thus turning him into Dad of the Year.” Yeah. No.)

Romance is the glory of finding someone utterly Other, nonetheless loving him, and shaping yourself round so that you can live happily together. It’s surrendering a life where you put yourself first, and committing to – ever after – making someone else’s good your good too. It’s self-sacrificing to the level not just of your soul, but of your body. It draws you out of yourself and at the same time gives you a reflection back at yourself so that you can see the beauty you didn’t know was in your own face.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. I finally decided that the person my heroine resembled most physically - though she's not quite right - is Robin Wright Penn, as she was in the Princess Bride.