Friday, April 30, 2010

Book 14 of 15: Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

I'd forgotten that this was just an introduction to the Politics.

Okay, I take back the "just". :) I was really glad to read this again. I think this should probably be an every-ten-years book for me. I read it in my late teens, and now I've read it in my late twenties. Hopefully I'll be up for it again before I turn forty.

Aristotle's question in the Ethics is "what is the blessedly happy man like?" He asks what happiness is and what virtue is, and follows every objection and question with line after line of distinctions and qualifications and definitions.

I'll admit to much of this being over my head; I'm no scholar of Greek nor a philosopher proper. But I do think that a reading of the Ethics will reward anyone who attempts it just because the questions Aristotle asks are worth asking.

I was once again struck by the similarities between the Ethics and the Biblical book of Proverbs; both are concerned with virtue and wisdom and the good life. I appreciated again Aristotle's careful explanation that the happy man is the virtuous man, that it is our habits that form us into the people we are, that give us the capacity to appreciate beauty or to contemplate truth.

I could see this time why St. Thomas Aquinas was so tempted to apply Aristotle to Christian theology. Aristotle goes absolutely as far as you can in discerning the purpose of man - as far as you can go without divine revelation (and I think you could agree to that statement whether or not you think divine revelation was eventually given). His thought is a tempting foundation that just begs to be built on. His thought is so clear and so far-reaching in its scope.

When I got, towards the end, to his discussion of friendship, I couldn't help but think of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity - that God exists eternally in three Persons, in a unity of being. Because Aristotle addresses the argument that the truly blessed man would not need friends (being self-sufficient due to his complete virtue) and disagrees. He says that since true friendship is based on similarity (similar levels of goodness) and also since true pleasure comes out of action (knowledge must be not just understood, but embodied), the blessed man wants friends because then he can see virtue like his own in action. And I thought, huh, I wonder if that's what being a part of the Trinity is like? Is that part of the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their eternal communion? That they - God in Himself - can see His own goodness in action?

Hopefully that's not a heretical thought. But it made sense to me while I was reading that part of Aristotle.

There's a lot more I wish I could write about this - I was underlining and starring and making notes in the margins all over the place!

There was stuff that applied to my personal life - like Aristotle's observation that we only try to do two things at once when they're two things that aren't much worth doing - like eating nuts at the theatre only when the actors are bad. :) It reminded me of the times when I watch a mediocre TV show while browsing on the Internet. Some parts of human nature don't change.

There was also stuff that I thought applied to our culture. I thought this paragraph might explain some of the ways that evangelical Christian culture has gone wrong in the past:

Now presumably some who say [pleasure] is base say so because they are persuaded it is so. Others, however, say it because they think it is better for the conduct of our lives to present pleasure as base even if it is not. For, they say, since the many lean towards pleasure and are slaves to pleasures, we must lead them in the contrary direction, because that is the way to reach the intermediate condition.*

But, of course, the Ethics is not about my personal life or my culture, and I don't want to make it less than it is by limiting it to specific applications. It can be used that way, and I think anyone reading it is going to have similar insights - moments when you say, "of course! that's just what life is like!" - because no one ever stated the obvious as clearly - or as early - as Aristotle. But it is a great work, and I almost wish I had the ability to appreciate it for all it is worth.

But not quite. In the end, I'm not sure that Aristotle is right about the chief happiness of human life being study. I am going to say, rather, that it is love, in the form of worshiping the One who is love. (Though I think you can get there through study. But, alas, I am not convinced enough that I am going to teach myself ancient Greek.)

However, that gets back to the problem of specific divine revelation, and I am now out of my text (to quote another great author).

Anyway . . . Aristotle. Worth reading, even hundreds of years later (yes, I know, I'm sure he's so relieved to hear me say so). I know I didn't get everything I could out of this, but I'm grateful for what I did get. I feel like Aristotle loaned me his clear thinking for the couple of days I was reading him, and my mind feels like it had a spring cleaning. There are worse ways to spend a day than thinking in the steps of "the master of those who know".

More on the 15/15 project here.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*For Aristotle, the intermediate condition is always going to be the correct one, virtue being found between opposite errors.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book 13 of 15: Reduced Shakespeare: The Attention-Impaired Reader's Guide to the World's Best Playwright by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor

This was funny, but not nearly so funny as their play. My favorite part of the book was actually the chapter that surveyed Shakespearian movies.

Sorry not to have more; everyone but me is sick over here, so life's a bit busy.

More on this challenge at GirlDetective.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book 12 of 15: The No-Cry Potty Training Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

Well, sometimes you just need to be practical. Yesterday was one of those days. I have two-year old twins, and potty-training has never been what I was good at as a mom, so I read this for encouragement. To gird up my loins before I teach the Twinkies to, well, gird up their loins (um, sort of).

I picked this one out because I remembered thinking that Pantley's "No-Cry Sleep Solution" was gentle and practical, and figured her potty-training book might be too. It was. She has lots of "try this ideas", but the overall thing she keeps emphasizing is that potty-training is a matter of the parent keeping her cool and being consistent and patient, and I know I've found that to be true in the past. 

This was a helpful read, and I really appreciated her emphasizing the part you can control (i.e., your own attitude) instead of the part you can't (i.e., whether or not your children actually produce anything in the desired location).

More on the 15/15 project here.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Hmm, haven't done a links post for awhile. Here you go!

My husband has a post about Lenten fasting and what we do with the time our fasting frees up.

Amy has a free e-book on homeschooling with Down Syndrome.

The Murrays share about artificial surfectant, and how it means breath and life for babies born prematurely. This invention saved the lives of two of my own children, and I appreciated knowing that it was money from the March of Dimes that allowed for the research that discovered it. Artificial surfectant is the reasons early babies routinely survive now - babies who would have died in years past.

Tienne's post about her Lenten internet fast is well-worth reading.

I thought this New York Times article about exercise was worth reading too. It summarizes the findings of a bunch of different studies. The conclusion is that exercise is important to health, and even to weight loss, but in the latter case, it might be important in different ways than we previously thought. It's a nice rejoinder for all those recent articles that claim that exercise doesn't help you get in shape at all.

Book 11 of 15: Our Village by Mary Russell Mitford

I must make this one quick, because I haven't even picked my 12th book yet, and the daylight hours are waning. And my children are outside in princess dresses (except Gamgee) and flip-flops, digging in the dirt, with snot running down their faces (we're starting into the second week of the fever/snot/aches/but-thank-God-no-puke flu) and frankly, it just doesn't feel like a blogging day.

I read "Our Village" by Mary Russell Mitford. It's a series of sketches of English village life from the 1820s and 1830s, and so charmingly written that Queen Victoria herself eventually gave Mitford a small pension to support her in her declining years. Lots and lots of landscape description, which is helpful for me because my heroine in my WIP is about to reach the shores of Dover and I don't know nearly enough about English botany. And lots of lovely little portraits of her neighbors, like this of the village's alehouse owner:

Landlord Sims, the master of the revels, and our very good new neighbour, is a portly, bustling man of five-and-forty, or thereabout, with a hale, jovial visage, a merry eye, a pleasant smile, and a general air of good-fellowship.  This last qualification, whilst it serves greatly to recommend his ale, is apt to mislead superficial observers, who generally account him a sort of slenderer Boniface, and imagine that, like that renowned hero of the spiggot, Master Sims eats, drinks and sleeps on his on anno domini. They were never more mistaken in their lives; no soberer man than Master Sims within twenty miles! Except for the good of the house, he no more thinks of drinking beer than a grocer of eating figs. To be sure when the jug lags he will take a hearty pull, just by way of example, and to set the good ale a going. But, in general, he trusts to subtler and more delicate modes of quickening its circulation. A good song, a good story, a merry jest, a hearty laugh, and a most winning habit of assentation; these are his implements. There is not a better companion, or a more judicious listener, in the county. His pliability is astonishing. he shall say yes to twenty different opinions on the same subject, within the hour; and so honest and cordial does his agreement seem, that no one of his customers, whether drunk or sober, ever dreams of doubting his sincerity.

I really enjoyed this one. It was pleasant to read and, for me, great research. My copy is also illustrated with paintings, some from famous artists like Constable and some watercolors done especially for this book. If you're an Anglophile, you'll enjoy it.

More on the 15/15 project here.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book 10 of 15: The World's Last Night and Other Essays by C. S. Lewis

One of the other readers in this 15/15 project read some Lewis and that reminded me that it'd been way too long since I'd read any myself, so yesterday I tackled "The World's Last Night and Other Essays."

The titular essay was my Lenten meditation during the first year I really observed Lent, back in college, and I have to say, I found it just as convicting and heartening yesterday as I found it then. He says of Jesus: 

His teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions. (1) That he will certainly return. (2) That we cannot possibly know when. (3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him.

Note the therefore. Precisely because we cannot predict the moment, we must be ready at all moments. Our Lord repeated this practical conclusion again and again as if the promise of the Return had been made for the sake of this conclusion alone. Watch, watch, is the burden of his advice. I shall come like a thief. You will not, I most solemnly assure you you will not, see me approaching . . . The point is surely simple enough. The schoolboy does not know which part of his Virgil lesson he will be made to translate: that is why he must be prepared to translate any passage. The sentry does not know at what time an enemy will attack, or an officer inspect, his post: that is why he must keep awake all the time. The Return is wholly unpredictable. There will be wars and rumours of wars and all kinds of catastrophes, as there always are. Things will be, in that sense, normal, the hour before the heavens roll up like a scroll. You cannot guess it. If you could, one chief purpose for which it was foretold would be frustrated. And God's purposes are not so easily frustrated as that.

Reading that, I remembered that it was in Lewis' writings that I first saw the obvious: that the "wars and rumors of wars" passages in the Bible didn't mean the times before the End would be extraordinary, but rather that they would be normal: there are always disasters. (If you don't believe me, just look at any newsfeed you care to name.) Once again, I appreciate Lewis' common sense; his ability to state the obvious and make it stick.

But here is the part that always makes me stop and consider and repent and go forth with renewed purpose:

We have all encountered judgments or verdicts on ourselves in this life. Every now and then we discover what our fellow creatures really think of us. I don't of course mean what they tell us to our faces: that we usually have to discount. I am thinking of what we sometimes overhear by accident or of the opinions about us which our neighbours or employees or subordinates unknowingly reveal in their actions: and of the terrible, or lovely, judgments artlessly betrayed by children or even animals. such discoveries can be the bitterest or sweetest experiences we have. But of course both the bitter and the sweet are limited by our doubt as to the wisdom of those who judge. We always hope that those who so clearly think us cowards or bullies are ignorant and malicious; we always fear that those who trust us or admire us are misled by partiality. I suppose the experience of the Final Judgment (which may break in upon us at any moment) will be like these little experiences, but magnified to the Nth.

For it will be infallible judgment. If it is favorable we shall have no fear, if unfavorable, no hope, that it is wrong. We shall not only believe, we shall know, know beyond doubt in every fibre of our appalled or delighted being, that as the Judge has said, so we are: neither more nor less nor other. We shall perhaps even realise that in some dim fashion we could have known it all along. We shall know and all creation will know too: our ancestors, our parents, our wives or husbands, our children. The unanswerable and (by then) self-evident truth about each will by known to all.

I do not find that pictures of physical catastrophe - that sign in the clouds, those heavens rolled up like a scroll - help one so much as the naked idea of Judgment. We cannot always be excited. We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world - and yet, even now, we know just enough of it to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of tryign to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. that is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.

Whew. A lot to type and a lot to take in. Is it any wonder I could spend a whole Lent thinking about this essay? (and the Donne poem from which it takes its title?)

There were, however, six other essays in this collection, and all of them were worth a re-read too. "The Efficacy of Prayer" talks about what prayer actually is (a relationship, not a magical transaction) and "The Obstinacy of Belief" talks about why Christians think it is good to persist in their faith even when it is tested. "Lilies that Fester" was about education, and I found it particularly interesting now that I'm teaching my own children. I also liked this quotation, which seemed to address the problem I have with Modernist literary theory:

For it is taken as basic by all the culture of our age that whenever artists and audience lose touch, the fault must be wholly on the side of the audience. (I have never come across the great work in which this important doctrine is proved.)

True! How, for instance, could Shakespeare have become as famous as he was unless his plays were actually intelligible and interesting? Do we take it as the audience's fault that Henry VI, Part II is so seldom performed or do we just admit that, you know, sometimes even a great man is off his game?

There was more along this line in "Good Work and Good Works". In talking about how some work would be worth doing even if we weren't paid for it, and how that is the work you want to try to get (and get paid for, because a man must earn his living), he does get to talking about art and says:

But though we have a duty to feed the hungry, I doubt whether we have a duty to "appreciate" the ambitious. This attitude to art is fatal to good work. Many modern novels, poems and pictures, which we are brow-beaten into "appreciating," are not good work because they are not work at all. They are mere puddles of spilled sensibility or reflection. When an artist is in the strict sense working, he of course takes into account the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his audience. These, no less than the language, the marble, or the paint, are part of his raw material; to be used, tamed, sublimated, not ignored or defied. Haughty indifference to them is not genius or integrity; it is laziness and incompetence. you have not learned your job. Hence, real honest-to-God work, so far as the arts are concerned, now appears chiefly in low-brow art; in the film, the detective story, the children's story. These are often sound structures; seasoned wood, accurately dovetailed, the stresses all calculated; skill and labour successfully used to do what is intended. Do not misunderstand. The high-brow productions may, of course, reveal a finer sensibility and profounder thought. But a puddle is not work, whatever rich wines or oils or medicines have gone into it.

This made me reflect that the high-brow puddles are really the same kind of thing as the Mary Sue fan-fic story: in both cases, the writer is primarily thinking of his or herself, not the audience.

I also like that Lewis points out that Christians have an example to follow when it comes to doing whatever work is their own really, really well:

When our Lord provided a poor wedding party with an extra glass of wine all round, he was doing good works. But also good work; it was a wine really worth drinking.

Amen! and don't you wish you could have been at that party?

The final two essays were "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" and "Of Religion and Rocketry" but I'm sure I've quoted enough Lewis for the day! That's the problem with reviewing the man: all I really want to do is retype the whole book. My congratulations if you've made it this far. :)

More on the 15/15 project can be found here.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book 9 of 15: Carry On, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

"Jeeves smiled paternally. Or, rather, he had a kind of paternal muscular spasm about the mouth, which is the nearest he ever gets to smiling." -from Carry On, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse
Ah, this was the perfect antidote to yesterday's slog. This was a book of ten stories about Wooster and Jeeves by the king of comic writers, P. G. Wodehouse. By the last few pages of the first story, Jeeves had extricated Wooster from an engagement to a young lady intent on improving the tone of Wooster's mind. Jeeves somberly told his master, ". . . it was [the young lady's] intention to start you almost immediately upon Nietzsche. You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound."
And that was the point at which, for me, "the sun shone in through the window; birds twittered in the tree-tops; and, generally speaking, hope dawned once more." I settled down for an enjoyable time, and an enjoyable time is exactly what I had.
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book 8 of 15: Living by Fiction by Annie Dillard

I have to admit that when I picked this up I was expecting something like Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird", a contemplation of the writing life. But this is actually a book of literary criticism, and, sadly, of the deadly kind.

Not that it's not well-written. It's Annie Dillard; it's perfectly written. There's not a clunker of a sentence in the whole thing. And that sort of fits her theme: that the art of fiction is in the art, and not in the story.

She spends the first half of the book describing modernist fiction as the sort of fiction whose strength is art, not story. To decide on a given piece of fiction's excellence, then, you would ask not "is it true?" but "is it well-done?". And to this, I found myself asking, "why wouldn't you ask both questions?" She spent some time deploring the fact that the masses would rather have "realized content" or "depth" in their stories instead of the self-referential integrity of "form" within their stories.

Yes, yes. Some of us think fiction is about the characters and the narrative. We poor, ignorant, bourgeois clods. We'd rather you told us a story than that you showed off your skill at word-arranging. (Again: can't we have both? The beautiful prose, the elegant structure - and the compelling plot?)

I am also one of those ill-educated clods who think that language can actually correspond to objects in the real world. I know. Dillard, to her credit, does eventually come down on the side that language can have shared meaning among different people, albeit imperfectly shared meaning.

Dillard then goes from performing literary criticism to singing a paen of praise about literary criticism. She declares that fiction itself is impotent until someone critiques it. Not merely reads it. Critiques it. Fiction interprets the world, but critics interpret fiction, and the works of fiction are mute until the critics do their job.

Yes. Of course. I'm sure that's exactly how it goes. Forget arguments about author's intent vs. what the reader brings to the story - it's all about what the critic brings to the story. Uh-huh. That's even better!

So, I spent the beginning of this book being angry (hard not to be when she keeps asking questions like, "after you have read a detailed analysis of Eliot's 'Four Quartets' . . . why would you care to write fiction like Jack London's . . . ?", as if the world weren't big enough for both), but I ended it just feeling sad.

I mean, here is Annie Dillard: brilliant, talented, writer of unmatchably elegant prose, a woman who cares deeply about literature, and she's left at the end unable to assert that literature actually does anything useful in the world. She hopes it does. She's inclined to think it does - she's especially inclined to think that fiction can interpret the human (as opposed to the natural) world to us. She says "art remakes the world according to sense," and I can see what she's saying. But she can't, in the end, actually assert any of these beliefs, because her philosophy of knowledge keeps her from saying, "I am right," or even "this, at least, I know."

I am with her when she says that not knowing completely doesn't keep us from not knowing at all. But she seems to lose even this conviction by the end of the book. This is - I kid you not - the final paragraph, and the point at which I gave up my (faint, but persistent) hope that all of these chapters were leading up to some variation of "of course, I am only joking":

Which shall it be? Do art's complex and balanced relationships among all parts, its purpose, significance, and harmony, exist in nature? Is nature whole, like a completed thought? Is history purposeful? Is the universe of matter significant? I am sorry; I do not know.

Now, please, tell me I am not the only person who reads that and wants to weep for the woman. This poor lady, spending so much time, caring so much, and being left only with the cold comfort that at least within the text there are balanced relationships. No wonder, I realized at the end, she is so adamant that art be prized for art's sake. She doesn't think there's anything outside art that art could reflect. To be left with only the formal and cold beauty of Modernist fiction for your comfort? Only with the sop that at least, in this or that story, there might be internal integrity? That this or that artist made his little world have a formal logic, and so at least there, in all the huge universe, there is order? That's a small, lonely comfort indeed.

I think I'm going to go cry now.

But I also have to say: there's none so blind as those that won't see. There is a paragraph where she says:

Can we not loose the methods of literary criticism upon the raw world? May we not analyze the breadth of our experience? We can and may - but only if we first consider the raw world as a text, as a meaningful, purposefully fashioned creation, as a work of art. For we have seen that critics interpret artifacts only. Our interpreting the universe as an artifact absolutely requires that we posit an author for it, or a celestial filmmaker, dramatist, painter, sculptor, composer, architect, or choreographer.

But then, she says,

And no one has been willing openly to posit such an artist for the universe since the American transcendentalists and before them the Medieval European philosophers.

Okay: I do understand that rational people can be atheists or agnostics (though I would argue they've followed the data incorrectly), but this seems to be a case of being unwilling to even take up the argument at all! Firstly, "no one"? Really? She must be limiting those she would consider people to, what? Academics in her own social circle? Second of all, does she have a bias against taking arguments from her ancestors? That seems very narrow. Why assume that ancient man is less intelligent than modern man? Especially when so much of what we know has built on their work? This last sentence just seems very close-minded to me. "Of course, it could be there is a meaning to the universe, but no one I know has thought so for at least a hundred years, so oh well."

I might be doing her a disservice (I hope I am), but it really does seem to be a dismissal of the bulk of humanity in favor of her own class and era of people. I guess we all have our faults. (And I do mean that - we all do, and maybe this is just where she falls down. I can feel for that, as I hope others have compassion for me in my errors.)

So, I go back and forth between being upset at this book and being saddened by this book. There is some good stuff in here (observations about artistic integrity, and the effect of an audience on the artist), but that just makes it worse, because at the end the author is not sure any of that good stuff means anything. Again, I just found this a very sad read, all the moreso because I have fond memories of her other work, and now I realize that I might ascribe more meaning to her work than she could herself.

More on the 15/15 challenge can be found here.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Friday, April 23, 2010

Book 7 of 15: Open Heart - Open Home by Karen Burton Mains

I'm going to do a bad job blogging this one, which is a pity, because it was much better than I thought it would be.

But the book I'm reading today is putting me in a bad mood (read all about it tomorrow!) and that's making it hard to due justice to Mains' gracious prose.

Though at times it reads like a manifesto for kind and generous extroverts, there's a lot here for any Christian*. Though it is a book about hospitality, instead of listing a bunch of rules (or worse, menus!), Mains invites the reader to prayer and self-examination, encouraging her readers to take seriously Christ's own concern for the lonely and the disenfranchised, suggesting that the best cure for many of the world's problems is hospitality - feeding, clothing, sheltering and loving the people in the world around us by taking them into our homes. It's a very basic, "if you have two cloaks, share with him who has none" mentality.

Again, though her temperament is at times so opposite to mine that I started laughing (her horror at a family spending hours in "chilly silence" almost matches my delight at the thought of a quiet evening at home), I was, in the end, both challenged and put at my ease by this book. Though Mains' own example of radical hospitality could be intimidating, she does such a good job of urging you to consider your own calling rather than urging you to imitate hers that I felt attracted to the idea of being more hospitable rather than discouraged that I would never match up to some floral-curtains-and-freshly-baked-bread ideal. I didn't agree with every little thing (I think her account of her own breakdown from overwork in ministry probably hints that she was, you know, overworking), but overall the tone of this book is much, well, holier than I expected, and not really Stepford-wife-ish, as the title and cover seemed to imply.

More on the 15 books/15 day challenge can be found at GirlDetective.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

p.s. I had no idea I had so many old evangelical books on my TBR pile. It's been sort of an interesting peek into my own family history.

*I'm not saying a non-Christian couldn't read this and get something out of it, just that Christians are her intended audience, and her entire premise is based on an assumption that her readers wish to follow Jesus' example and instructions.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book 6 of 15: "'What Shall I Say?': A Guide to Letter Writing for Ladies"

This is a little museum reproduction of a book originally published in 1898. After listing the proper forms of address (starting with the queen, then proceeding through the greater and lesser ranks of nobility, clergy and professional men) and a few pithy pieces of advice on the mechanics of letter writing itself ("No one admires a 'style' which is difficult to read, and if you hanker to be 'admired,' as all vain persons do, you would, for your own sake, do well to choose some other field in which to 'show off' than in affecting an eccentric handwriting"), the rest of the book consists in examples of various types of letters.

I think the author of this book must have a had a stifled longing to be a novelist, because these letters are entertaining stories in and of themselves. With titles like "From a governess to her mother saying she is unhappy in her situation" to "From young lady to her lover, who urges immediate marriage", these letters are bunches of little windows into late Victorian social life. In many cases, the letters are answered by a second example, and sometimes two! For example, the letter "Asking lady to sing at a concert" is followed by "Reply-favourable" and "Reply-unfavourable."

You'd think the Victorians would surpass us in courtesy at every occasion, so it was interesting to read some sentiments in these letters that wouldn't be polite to write in a modern email. For instance, in a birthday letter, a young lady says to her mother: "How can I express my joy at having you still with us to congratulate on another birthday?" Can you imagine that on a Hallmark card? "Happy birthday, Mom, I'm so glad you're not dead yet."Reading this book made me realize that mortality is avoided in modern conversation in a way it wasn't when this book was written.

I think my favorite, though, was the section of love letters. There are several in a row dealing with responses to marriage proposals - some accepting and some declining. A couple of the declining ones are very kind - expressing the lady's hopes that the gentleman will find someone who can love him as much as he deserves, etc. - but one of them reads as follows:

Dear Sir,

I thought from my manner of receiving your smallest attentions, that it would have been evident to you that those same attentions were disagreeable to me. You will do me the justice to acknowledge that I never on any single occasion gave you the least encouragement.

Hoping you will come to your senses, and forget me as soon as possible.

I am, yours truly,


In twenty-first century terms: burn.

Very fun book. Definitely worth dipping into, and, honestly, a useful little tome if you're at a loss for words, even in 2010. The language might be old, but the sentiments are recognizable even 100 years later.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CSA excitement!

Look, look, look at what is in our CSA basket this week - finally!

Lettuce, Chard, Kohlrabi, Beets, Parsley, Kale, Celery, Strawberries, Carrots, Sweet Peas, Navel Oranges, Tangerines, Avocado, Lemon, Apples, Valencia Oranges, Broccoli, Grapefruit,
Larges: Pears, Limes, Garlic
The large extras are: Strawberries, Navel Oranges, Avocado, Lemon, Apples, Valencia Oranges, Grapefruit

This is what I've been waiting for since we signed up. Our CSA is famous for its strawberries.

And in just an hour or two, we get to try some!

(I'm also excited about the sweet peas. It's spring!)

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Book 5 of 15: Learning How to Pray for Our Children

This is an odd little book. It's got some advice that's brilliant, and some that just seems odd. It was published in 1979 and kind of shows its age, especially with the funny little line drawings that look like country-style Precious Moments kids.

But . . . hm. It's a combination of personal experience essays, poems (sort of), Bible verses and (the best part) example prayers.

I do like the example prayers. There are a couple of pages that read like a litany, just going through and praying for your children in a bunch of different areas, like maturity and salvation and health.  It also talks about praying through family curses, which is something you don't read much about these days. The way they talk about it seems kind of funny to me, but I've lived where curses were very much in evidence, and if such things aren't as obvious in the States, well . . . things don't stop existing just because we aren't looking for them (or at them).

This little book was obviously a labor of much love, produced by a single little Baptist church, and it's good-hearted, written by a bunch of women who just wanted to share what they'd learned through their experience of praying for their children. The idea of praying for your children often, specifically and with faith is one I can heartily endorse, so I appreciate this book, even if some of the content and more of the style strikes me as a bit odd.

More on the 15 books in 15 days project can be found at GirlDectective.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

p.s. I'm reading a couple of shorter things during this part of the challenge so that I can (hopefully) give myself time to get through a couple of the thicker books on my list. My biggest hope? That I can plow through Aristotle's "Ethics" before the challenge is over. There. I admitted it. Now hopefully I'll feel myself bound to do it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a few reasons I love homeschooling

My five-year-old just picked her next poem to memorize, and chose one by Christina Rossetti. She doesn't know who Rossetti is; she just liked it. 

(Reason #1: my kids get to fall in love with the great writers before they know they're great, thus proving that very greatness.)

Her brother heard her reciting it, and memorized it too, even though he's not technically in school yet.

(Reason #2: there're more chances for the younger ones to catch virtue from the older ones.)

Her brother's loud and happy recitation prompted her to learn the poem quickly and shout it all around the house.

(Reason #3: there're more chances for the older ones to catch enthusiasm from the younger ones.)

The shouts of the five-year-old and the four-year-old led to the two-year-old twins shouting lines from the poem ("Baby, honey!")

(Reason #4: the younger sibs get to know their school-age sibs - I know I sure missed my little brother when my sister and I were both in school.)

These are not a complete apology for homeschooling or anything like it, but they are perks I'm surely enjoying right now.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Book 4 of 15: Manalive by G. K. Chesterton

The first time I picked up this book, I was working in a library. I flipped it open and found this conversation:

". . . But the cold fact remains: imprudent marriages do lead to long unhappiness and disappointment - you've got used to your drinks and things - I shan't be pretty much longer-"

"Imprudent marriages!" roared Michael. "And pray where in earth or heaven are there any prudent marriages? Might as well talk about prudent suicides ... Unhappy! of course you'll be unhappy. Who the devil are you that you shouldn't be unhappy, like the mother that bore you? Disappointed! of course we'll be disappointed. I, for one, don't expect till I die to be so good a man as I am at this minute - a tower with all the trumpets shouting."

"You see all this," said Rosamund, with a grand sincerety in her solid face, "and do you really want to marry me?"

"My darling, what else is there to do?" reasoned the Irishman. "What other occupation is there for an active man on this earth, except to marry you?"

I was drawn in, and convinced my soon-to-be-husband to read the rest of the book aloud to me for a birthday present. That was, oh, eight or nine years ago? We finally got our own copy last year, and it's been sitting on my TBR shelf ever since - but no more!

I gobbled this up yesterday. Reading Chesterton is always a wild ride, and you're never sure which way is up when you're done. This novel's hero, Innocent Smith, might come the closest to being an incarnation of Chesterton's general philosophy of life of any of his characters - maybe even more than Fr. Brown.

The book starts in a London boarding house the day a wind kicks up, and with that wind comes a man named Innocent Brown, who first energizes everyone, then appears to do something criminally insane. The criminality is investigated, and it turns out that rather than being mad, Innocent Brown is in fact the sanest man that ever lived.  He breaks into his own house because he wishes to learn how to covet his own goods. He threatens suicide-fancying men with death so that they can see that they really prefer life. He pretends to meet his own wife for the first time over and over so that he can see her as he knows she ought to be seen. And, as one character says, he did it all "in order to feel the same interest in his own affairs that he always felt in other people's."

I like this passage, where Smith is arguing with a Russian man about Ibsen:

""The Doll's House"?" he cried vehemently; "why, that is just where Ibsen was so wrong! Why, the whole aim of a house is to be a doll's house. Don't you remember, when you were a child, how those little windows WERE windows, while all the big windows weren't. A child has a doll's house, and shrieks when a front door opens inwards. A banker has a real house, yet how numerous are the bankers who fail to emit the faintest shriek when their real front doors open inwards

". . . I have found out how to make a big thing small. I have found out how to turn a house into a doll's house. Get a long way off it: God lets us turn all things into toys by his great gift of distance."

This book is a romp, and the great giant Innocent Brown jumps and jolts and thunders all through it like a baby elephant. The best part is reading the dialogue that occurs around him, as onlookers try to figure him out. Michael, the man from the first dialogue I quoted, finally comes to the conclusion that Innocent "has distinguished between custom and creed. He has broken the conventions, but he has kept the commandments." He says that it is this complete goodness that makes Innocent so happy.

Michael's friend, Gould, then disagrees with him, saying gravely, "I do not believe that being perfectly good in all respects would make a man merry," to which Michael replies, quietly, "Well, will you tell me one thing? Which of us has ever tried it?"

Loved this book, and love it still.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book 3 of 15: Nanny by Chance by Betty Neels

Betty Neels has written over 100 novels . . . and almost all of them are going to be about a Dutch doctor (large, but moves quickly for his size, light-complected, thin-lipped, very handsome, very smart, and very rich) and a nice English girl (plain, but with speaking eyes and masses of mousy hair, almost certainly taking care of some ailing relative who doesn't thank her for it). There will be rich descriptions of old houses, new (but sensible!) clothes and yummy teatimes. 

"Nanny by Chance" is no different, but it was the perfect book for a Sunday afternoon.  Here is a typical passage:

Araminta had a quick shower and got into another skirt and  a pretty blouse, spent the shortest possible time over her face and hair and nipped downstairs again with a few minutes to spare. She suspected that the doctor was a man who invited punctuality.

He was in the drawing room still, but he got up as she went in, offered her a glass of sherry, enquired if the boys were asleep and made small talk until Bas came to tell them that dinner was ready.

Araminta was hungry and Jet was a splendid cook. She made her way through mushrooms in a garlic and cream sauce, roast guinea fowl, and apple tart with whipped cream. Mindful of good manners, she sustained a polite conversation the while.

It's all so very correct, and if you're asking where the romance is . . . well, that's often what I find myself asking when I read a Betty Neels book. She seems to assume that you will fill in all the details; though she often tells you what the characters are feeling, she always seems to skip the steps that tell you  why the characters are feeling that way. About halfway through the book, she will inform you the heroine has fallen in love, and a few pages before the end, she'll let you know the hero has fallen in love too. And you just take her at her word, because she's led you through so many lovely old houses and parks and dishes of mushrooms and cream. If you feel like a lazy afternoon tour through the more civilized parts of England and Holland, then a good Betty Neels book is just what you're looking for.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Sunday, April 18, 2010

something pretty for Sunday

Here is David Gilmour singing a setting of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 (hat tip to Semicolon):

Book 2 of 15: Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney

Family Worship: in the Bible, in History and in Your Home by Donald S. Whitney is very short - a break from yesterday's long-haul. It reads like a college essay, but a very good one, making its points in brief, clear language.

Whitney argues that family worship - basically, a daily family devotional time consisting of prayer, Bible-reading and singing - should be practiced in every Christian family. He acknowledges that this is not explicitly stated in the Bible but argues that it's very easy to infer it, and also that it's clear it has been regularly practiced throughout church history.

The "throughout church history" part is where Whitney shows his bias most clearly: he gives one  example from the New Testament era church and then skips all the way forward to the Reformation and past for the rest of his examples. He also places a big emphasis on the devotions being led by the father of the family - and possibly even the oldest son, in a fatherless family. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the flavor was, to me at least, very Southern Baptist.

But I did enjoy reading his exhortations to lead our children in prayer. The whole tone is very straight-forward and sincere. I was encouraged by this to add singing back to our family prayer time at night. It slipped out sometime this past year, and I appreciated the reminder that home is also a good place to sing praises to the Lord.

In other news: I'm enjoying this challenge. I know my selections are sort of odd: they really just are the books that have been accumulating, unread, on my shelves. Since today's Sunday, I'm letting myself enjoy a light romance, but I'm also using the time from yesterday and today's shorter books to get a head start on some of the longer ones in my pile. 

Links to other reviews can be found over at Girl Dectective's blog.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Book 1 of 15: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

If women are by nature inferior to men, their virtues must be the same in quality, if not in degree, or virtue is a relative idea; consequently, their conduct should be founded on the same principles and have the same aim. - Mary Wollstonecraft

I've wanted to read this book in its entirety for a long time. I read large excerpts of it in college, and last year, when I read Dorothy Sayers' "Are Women Human?", my desire to read Wollstonecraft was reignited, and I ordered my own copy.

It sat on my bookshelf till GirlDetective's 15 books in 15 days challenge, and now (after staying up way too late last night, perched on the top bunk in the kids' room next to a small sconce, 'cause we have no good bedside light in our bedroom, and we had a guest on the pull-out couch downstairs) I have read it.

It was good. The main thesis is - and you must remember that this was written over 200 years ago - that women are not as weak and devious as they seem due to their nature, but rather to their education. Wollstonecraft argues that even if women cannot be virtuous to the same degree as men, because they are also human beings their virtue must be of the same kind, and therefore they ought to be taught to use their reason (the exercise of reason, in her very Aristotelian view, leading to understanding, which will lead to virtue) just as men are taught to use theirs.

She also argues that this will not make them less womanly, but more, because they will then be fit to be good mothers and wives, capable of friendship with their husbands, capable of ordering their households and capable of educating their children. She argues that if the only education women receive is how to adorn and comport themselves to snare a husband, it is not a wonder that they are incapable of rising above trivial thoughts or infantile behavior. At the end of her books she says: 

. . . I have endeavoured to shew that private duties are never properly fulfilled unless the understanding enlarges the heart; and that public virtue is only an aggregate of private.

There were several things I found very interesting in the book, but one was that it became clear to me that her argument - which is, indeed, the basis for all other feminist arguments - is only possible because of her Christian worldview. It is, to be sure, a sort of Enlightenment Christianity, but the reason she is able to jump from Aristotle's view of reason leading to virtue leading to happiness for men to reason leading to virtue leading to happiness for mankind is because Christianity allows women to have immortal souls. Wollstonecraft, arguing against current moralists who argued that women need no more education that that which fits them for marriage, dryly observes:

How women are to exist in that state where  there is to be neither marrying nor giving in marriage, we are not told.

It's a good point, and well-made. 

It is also a point made over and over and over. She has one real argument, and spends two hundred pages trying to show how true it is from many points of view, using as many examples as she can muster. It's good public relations to make your point a hundred times rather than one, so that hopefully it gets through at least once, but it did make for slightly wearing reading after awhile.

Still, however much you might disagree on minor points here and there, I think any woman reading this - any woman with a college degree, any woman who enjoys her right to vote, any woman grateful for the equal protection of law - ought to make her polite curtsy to the shade of Mary Wollstonecraft. It's thanks to this brave and bright manifesto of hers that the conversation about the humanity of women really got started in modern times.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

ETA: A couple more quick notes:

-M. W. is pro-life and pro-breastfeeding*. Interesting both because it shows that those debates are not at all new and also because it points out the vast gulf between Wollstonecraft's feminism and modern feminism.

-M. W. advocates chastity (more of that gulf) - and advocates it for both women and men (the latter was the radical part in her day). This is more of the virtue-in-one-sex-being-virtue-in-the-other thing.

-Reading this book takes away the illusion, if the reader had it, that the good old days were good. Every age has its corruption: political, moral and otherwise. Her rant on education, not just of girls, but of children in general, was fascinating. It was also interesting to read some of her disdain for ostentation in government - things that I'd probably find picturesque if I visited England - things like horse-mounted guards at government offices.

*Modern feminism is usually pro-breastfeeding too, but theirs is a "if you wish to do it, you should certainly have the right to" whereas M. W.'s pro-breastfeeding viewpoint is more along the lines of "if you pass your child along to a wet nurse out of laziness or a desire to retain your sexual appeal, you are being a negligent mother." 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

drinking from a fire hose

Via Mental Multivitamin, I heard today about the 15 books in 15 days challenge from Girl Detective.

I don't know if I can do it. I usually average a couple of books a week. But . . . but it sounds like it'd be a good way to crowd out the way-too-frequent online reading I've been doing lately. 

And my TBR stack is out of control. I have this stack of books that are all interesting to me, but that I keep putting aside for the newest enthralling novel or fascinating non-fiction that calls my name from the library shelves. (I'm such a magpie reader. Me: "oooh, shiny!")

If I did this I'd cut that TBR pile into . . . oh, let's be generous . . . half. A good half.

It starts tomorrow. Anyone else want to join me in setting ourselves up for a glorious failure?

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Weird Al is my hero

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the grammar stage

I just finished an excellent book called "How to Learn Any Language" by Barry Farber. It's a great encouragement as I continue to work on my Spanish.

But when I read this bit, I was reminded of nothing so much as theology, and how we perceive dogma early in our Christian walks, and then how that perception changes as we grow to know the Lord better:

You don't have to know grammar to obey grammar. If you obey grammar from the outset, when you turn around later and learn why you should say things the way you're already saying them, each grammatical rule will then become not an instrument of abstract torture disconnected from anything you've experienced but rather an old friend who now wants you to have his home address and private phone number.

Isn't that great? It's exactly that way as we learn the creeds, or struggle through some of the early fathers, or try to understand Romans the first time around. But, more and more, the more you live it and actually obey the Lord's instructions, the more what was obscure becomes clear. As Proverbs says, the path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, growing ever brighter to the full light of day.  Farber continues, saying that a foreign language's grammar, once you've got a bit of the language in you, 

becomes a gift flashlight that makes you smile and say, "Now I understand why they say it that way!"

Grammar eventually is revealed to be common sense, much like Christian dogma. Once you understand it, it's not weird and convoluted, rather it's beautiful and useful, and you understand why "they say it that way": because it's the only way it can be said while still preserving all the meaning intended.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

from our current read-aloud:

Now that the worst seemed to be happening, Roger began to feel more cheerful, and even a bit reckless. After all, every magic adventure he'd ever read had turned out fine for the hero in the end. I do not know how he came to be so sure that he was the hero of this one, but he was. It is simply a thing that one knows, and if you have ever been the hero of an adventure yourself, you will understand.  -from "Knight's Castle" by Edward Eager

For Emily: Czerneda recommendations

My last post mentioned Julie Czerneda, and as I was also talking to Emily yesterday about enjoying Czerneda's books, I thought I'd post here where you might want to start if you were interested in reading some of her stories.
The first one I read was Survival: Species Imperative #1. I think this series might still be my favorite. The heroine is a salmon biologist, and gets roped into the bigger story because the alien species in danger has a taboo against studying biology and so has to look further afield for help when they are threatened with biological terrorism.
   It takes a little bit for the story to get started, but that first little bit is spent in the gorgeous (and well-described) Pacific Northwest, on the most interesting research station I've ever read about, so it's not painful to wait for the story to find its feet. And once it does, it's gripping. (And scary. At least I thought so. You are warned.) After Survival, the series continues for two more books (Czerneda tends to write trilogies). Btw, romance is not a huge, key part of the plot, but there is a romance in there, and it's one of my favorites in sci-fi.
The second series I can recommend starts with A Thousand Words for Stranger. I enjoyed this one too, but it's a little more space opera and a bit less science-y sci-fi. It's still lots of fun. Telepaths, and romance, and amnesia, and, of course, Czerneda's awesome aliens. She's so good at aliens. This one also is a trilogy.

So, enjoy!
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

books I've read lately

I seem to be on a non-fiction kick; it's weird. I am reading a couple interesting novels right now, though, so I'll have reviews of them soon.
Here's what I've read since the last time I posted about it:

Boundaries with Kid: When to say YES, When to Say NO, to Help Your Children Gain Control of Their Lives  – Cloud, Dr. Henry and Townsend, Dr. John - This was one of those books that encouraged me to keep going on as we've started, and that gave me some good ideas about how to do that. I like their concept that in order to give your kids self-control, you've got to exercise it yourself. You have to be clear and firm about what they may and may not do, and with those boundaries absolutely inviolable, you then have the space to be very compassionate towards your frustrated kids. If the rules aren't up for debate, then you can sympathize with kids who are experiencing the consequences of breaking the rules, rather than spilling your anger out on them because you don't know how to handle their misbehavior.
      As the authors point out, your kids always have choices, and your job is to make their choices clear. You can't make a child obey, but you can make the consequences for disobedience exist. And you can help make the good choice more appealing and the bad choice less appealing. 
     What I really like about this book is that it takes into account the fact that when you deal with kids, you're dealing with little sinners (not so unlike their parents, eh?), and that what you really want to do is harness their self-interest. And it works, because ultimately it is in their self-interest to obey, to become good, loving people. In other words, it works because it's based in reality, the reality that children are sinners and the reality that true happiness is found in virtue, not vice.
Stardoc  – Viehl, S. L. This book had some interesting world-building, but I really didn't like where it ended up going, and I'm not planning to read the sequels.
Keeping House: the Litany of Everyday Life  – Peterson, Margaret Kim. Review here.
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School – Medina, John  -This one was fascinating. I finally found out why it's possible to faint from shock! Your brain is so glucose-hungry that you can only use a very small percentage of it at a time, for the simple reason that you don't have enough glucose (or enough oxygen to break the glucose down, or the ability to get rid of the by-products of oxygen break-down fast enough) to fuel more than a small percentage. So if you see/learn something shocking, your brain tries to process too much at once, using too large a percentage of your brain, and the brain has to shut off because it doesn't have enough energy to do that much processing!
     This, and many, many other interesting facts are in this book. It does a good job of explaining what we do know about how the brain works and how very, very much we don't know, and the author has lots of ideas for experiments that should be run so that we can find out more. In the meantime, he has advice for living better lives based on what we do know about how our brains work. Most of them are very elementary (e.g., exercise, get enough rest), but I found it fascinating to learn how neurology supports those common-sense bits of advice.
Beholder’s Eye: Web Shifters #1 – Czerneda, Julie E. - I love Julie Czerneda. She's definitely in my top-five list of sci-fi authors (along with, hm, Bujold, Asimov, Clarke, and Miller&Lee? Maybe?). This series is about a shape-shifter, but like any good sci-fi author, Czerneda puts enough limits around her heroine's seeming-super-power that the plot holds your interest. Czerneda is probably the best alien-builder I know, going way beyond your simple humanoid-with-extra-forehead-ridges or humanoid-with-blue-skin. In this series, I loved how her heroine's worldview shifted whenever she shifted shapes, as she took on the characteristics and fears and drives of the creature she was imitating.How about the rest of you? Read anything you loved recently? Or hated? I'm always open to recommendations; my list is so long right now that I know I'm never going to finish it, so I might as well add some more!
peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

on the difference between being a generalist and being an artist

So, there’s this myth floating around that annoys me. The myth is that to be a good lover you have to have had lots of lovers.

Now, this hits upon a truth, which is that to be a good lover you have to have had lots of experience. Much like being a musician, it’s a thing that improves vastly with practice. And exponentially with lots of practice.

But – running with the musician metaphor – who, upon advising a young person who wants to become a great cellist, would say, “Okay, so you start by learning your scales on the horn, the piano and the recorder, and don’t forget to learn how to play Aura Lee on the bassoon”? No. You’d tell him the old chestnut about how you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. And if you want to get to Carnegie Hall playing the cello, what is it you practice again? Oh yeah: the cello.

So, back to sex. (“Now back to him, now back to me.) Becoming a great lover isn’t a question of becoming a great lover of many persons. It is a question of becoming a great lover of the person to whom you are making love. It is specific, not general. (There are general principles, of course, much as there is general music theory. In both cases, may I suggest, um, books?)

If you make love to many, many people, you are sort of like the one-man band. Sure, a one-man band interesting to listen to for awhile, and sort of stunning in its multiplicity, but it’s not too long before what you really want is for all the racket to go away. The jack-of-all-trades is all too often the master of none.

So what do you want to be? The fellow who knows how to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on every instrument in the band hall?  Really?

Or wouldn’t you rather be Yo-Yo Ma with his Stradivarius?

I’m just saying.

peace of Christ to you,

(the very happily married) Jessica Snell

p.s. Yes, I can pick holes in the analogy too. But I think my point about experience in the specific holds.

Monday, April 5, 2010

devotional aids: St. James Daily Devotional Guide for the Christian Year and Alexander Scourby's recording of the Bible

A great blessing to me this Lent was the St. James Daily Devotional Guide for the Christian Year (what a mouthful!), put together by Fr. Henry Patrick Reardon (author of such wonderful books as Christ in the Psalms and Christ in His Saints). That, and Alexander Scourby's recording of the Bible.
I thought I'd share a bit about them, in case they could be of use to anyone else.
Last year, I read through the whole Bible. I'm very glad I did it, but I'll be the first to admit that it was a big job. (In fact, I didn't actually finish within the year alloted. I think I finished in early March, maybe late February, of this year.) I did, though, want to keep up with regular Bible reading. So I took another look at something I've often seen advertised in Touchstone, the St. Jame's Guide.
It fit the bill exactly. I hate to gush, but this is what I've been looking for for years. It has daily readings, from Old Testament, New and the Psalms. It has you go through the New Testament once a year and the Old every two years (a much more manageable pace than the whole thing in a year) and through the Psalms, well, a lot (very traditional, that). And, if that weren't enough, the readings are arranged to match the liturgical year (so last week, for instance, I was reading the passion passages from the gospel and Lamentations, among other thigns, and this week it's all Resurrection and triumphant Psalms). And it has suggestions for ways to fit the readings into morning and evening prayer. And it has commentary on the selected scriptures. And additional commentary online (which you can subscribe to in your RSS feedreader).
So, pretty amazing.
But, I admit, even though it is a manageable schedule, I still have had trouble keeping up this Lent. (Diapers, pottytraining, homeschooling, cooking, sleep, writing, SLOTH, etc . . .) Which brings me to my second devotional aid: this audio recording of the Bible.
I actually first ran into this at my local library. They have it on cassette and I brought it home and listened to it, and was amazed to find the narrator was reading a genealogy, and I wasn't bored! His voice is that good, and so is his skill at interpreting the text. You can tell that he has studied it, and thought about what it means, because it comes through in his tone and pacing. My husband and I bought it a few years ago on mp3 (only about $25! amazing for that much material - 72 hours worth) and it's seen a lot of use in our house (and out - my husband listens to it on his commute).
So, when I have had trouble keeping up with the reading schedule in the devotional guide, I've caught up by listening to the selections on mp3, while I do dishes or clean the bathroom or what have you.
I know that's not perfect - listening while doing chores - and probably there will come a time in my life again when I'll actually read by eye and not by ear most of my devotional texts. But right now, these two tools together are a Godsend (and I do mean that). I am very grateful for them, because they mean that, at this busy time in my life (four kids five and under), I am still attending to the word of God, in greater volume than I think I otherwise would.
So, I thought I'd pass on what I found, in case anyone else might be able to use either resource. They're both really good, and I think more folks should know they're out there. So helpful! And, in both cases, such high, high quality work.
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter earthquake

I was just standing outside talking to some neighbors, when I started feeling slightly seasick. "Do you feel that?" my neighbors asked. And I realized I did, and it went on and on and on, a horrible rolling motion that made me feel like I was on a boat out on the open sea.

It was long, and then when we thought it was over, it started again.  And I said, "that was big, and it wasn't close," because when they're close, earthquakes are terribly jerky, and when they're far away, they roll. But if they're far away and they're small, you don't feel them. So something that easy to feel, with that rolling motion, had to be big and far. 

When I came in, I googled it, and came up with a 6.9 in Baja. Yep. Far and big. And then I thought, wow, it's weird to have been in SoCal long enough to know how to interpret earthquakes.

But my immediate next thought was the people in Baja, where it hit. It's only about 10 minutes ago that it happened, so I don't know if it was in a populated area or not, or how much damage it did. But now I'm praying for them on this Easter Sunday. Would you too?

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica snell

Saturday, April 3, 2010

the Lord is risen!

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.
-George Herbert, from Easter

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Did you know that there is a video of Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye singing together?
I sat in sheer, open-mouthed delight through the entire three minutes. Are they not both amazing?