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:







-red-leaf lettuce

-romaine lettuce

-bok choy






-butternut squash



-limes & lemons




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


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:
-red leaf lettuce
-mystery green (chard?)
-arugula (I think . . .)
-summer squash
-butternut squash
-green beans

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