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: 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:
-yellow flowers (chysanthamums?)
-a grapefruit
-beets w/ greens
-red chard
-kale? maybe?
-green onions
-green beans
-zucchini (ack, ick, uck!)
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.
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
-a zucchini (well, you can't win them all . . .)
-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.

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.

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.)

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


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.


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