Saturday, May 29, 2010

Homeschooling Year One

We are close to finished with our first year of homeschooling, and we are planning to continue next year. I thought I’d do a little post about what we did, what worked and what didn’t, and what we’re planning on doing next year.

What Worked

Not having to get all the kids out of the house by seven! :)  I kid, but with four kids five and under, this is not an insignificant consideration!

 The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. I’m very impressed with this book. We’re about halfway through it. It’s very easy to use and very, very thorough. My daughter’s learning to read well, and I’m learning things I never knew about my own language!

            For handwriting practice, I have my daughter choose a sentence from her reading lesson every day and copy it.

Math U See, Primer. This book makes me unafraid to teach math. I love how the concepts are illustrated visually and in a tactile manner with the manipulative blocks. For example, in teaching time, the book has you make a clock out of the five-unit blocks, one block between each number on the clock, so that the student has a visual illustration of the number of minutes between each number on the clock. It then uses the skill of skip-counting-by-five (taught in an earlier lesson) to teach the child how to read what is indicated by minute hand. Very clever, very effective.

More Mudpies to Magnets. We’ve been doing experiments out of this book, and every one of them has been a huge hit.

Bible story narration. We’re slowly reading through a Bible story book. I read Bess a story, and then she narrates back a two-to-three sentence version to me, which I copy down for her. Then she illustrates it. Thus, she’s slowly making her very own Bible story book. I got this idea from Berquist’s Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, and I’m very happy with it.

Scripture memorization. We’re using Well-Versed Kids, and we got a fair way through it this year. (I'm lucky, and my mom is lending me the copy she used with us when we were kids. It's pretty hard to find now.) We’re also memorizing the verses off of the fliers the kids bring home from Sunday school.

Poetry memorization. Bess has memorized several poems this year. She gets to pick them. Once she’s memorized them, we copy them down into her poetry journal. This is another idea from Berquist’s book.

Art lessons with Grandpa. My dad’s been coming over to do art with Bess. She’s learned some basic drawing skills, and been introduced to tools like charcoal, and done lots of other fun projects, like using construction paper cut-outs to make a big scene on poster board and like lighting candles and then drawing the flames. This has been very cool. 

Spanish Lessons with Aunt L. My sister has come and done Spanish with the kids (Bess and her little brother). These have been really neat too, and have included writing her own stories in Spanish and illustrating them, and having snacks and talking about them in Spanish, and even visiting with my sister's classroom hamster and talking about it in Spanish.

Lots and lots and lots of read-alouds. We’ve read a lot of age-appropriate science books and history books and fairy tales and Spanish children’s books.

Homeschooling P. E. class. Our local university offers a P. E. class for homeschoolers – it’s how they give their elementary ed. students a practicum in how to each P. E. This was a blast – Bess got to do all the fun P. E. stuff like playing with parachutes and running relay races and bean bag tosses and all that jazz.

What Didn’t Work

A formal Spanish program. I’ve got one I want to use next year, but this year we ended up doing conversation days with my sister (as mentioned above) and lots and lots of Spanish picture books and some Spanish music.  It was informal, which I didn’t expect, but it was good. My kids were really resistant to speaking something other than English at the beginning of this year, but now they’re getting used to it. They’re even excited about it (when it involves music they like or stories they like). My daughter’s even tried using Spanish when the occasion called for it, and that’s a huge step forward!

A science experiment a week. It just didn’t happen that way. They were there, but less frequent than I hoped.

What We’re Doing Next Year

Friday school. This is the biggest change. Next year the plan is to enroll Bess in a private school satellite program. This means that technically, Bess will be enrolled in private school (which, among other things, simplifies our paperwork), though she will only have school on campus once a week. The rest of her lessons will be at home, taught by me. The bigger benefits are that she gets to go to classes once a week, and will get music lessons (they do choir and a musical every semester) and P. E. and some extra history and science classes and FIELD TRIPS. Basically, it fills in all the gaps – all the stuff that’s hard to do on our own. And it lets her continue to get used to classes with other kids and to other people teaching her, but without the uber-long public school day.

I’m glad we did the first year on our own, because I got to find my feet without anyone looking over my shoulder. But for this next year, now that I know what I want and need, I’m excited to have a bit of support and a little more structure.

First Language Lessons and Writing with Ease. This is what we’re moving to for Language Arts once we finish OPGTTR (which should be within the first month or so of school, as it’s the one thing we’re planning to keep up with over the summer). I don’t think I’d be homeschooling if I hadn’t read The Well-Trained Mind, and so I’m cheerfully going ahead and following most of Bauer’s suggestions, including using her curricula where they exist. We’ll also be using Spelling Workout A.

 Bible stories and Scripture memorization. Just continuing with what we did this year.

 Handwriting . . . um. Of some kind. I’m leaning Zaner-Bloser, but I’m also thinking about Handwriting Without Tears.

El Espanol Facil (forgive the lack of accent). It was hard to find a Spanish curriculum that wasn’t aimed at high-schoolers, and that also wasn’t crafts-based, and that also wasn't just memorizing odd bits of vocabulary, but this one looks good. I'll try to report back. :)

       In addition, I’m hoping to have at least one time a day (probably a meal) where we only speak Spanish. I’m working really hard to get my Spanish to the place where I can facilitate this!

Biology WTM-style. We’ll be using the suggestions in WTM, and studying plant life, animal life and the human body.

Story of the World I: Ancient Times. I’m looking forward to this!


I think that’s the bulk of it. There are a few things I still need to figure out, but this is the plan going forward. Of course, the very fact that I’m homeschooling – when I never ever expected to do that – makes me know that I can’t count on everything working out just as I plan!


Anyone else more-or-less know what you're doing next year?

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Thursday, May 27, 2010


You might have heard about Steve Jobs refusing to let p0rn apps into the "app store" for iPods, iPads, etc. Someone twitted him about being anti-freedom, and Jobs answered that it was about freedom, it was about freedom from p0rn. (Doesn't that remind you of Augustine's comment about how real freedom of the will is the redeemed's freedom not to sin?)  Albert Mohler has an interesting commentary on Jobs' decision here.
Robin McKinley (who has written such lovely things as Beauty and Spindle's End) has a great post up right now on writing. A sample:
You may be trying to make the story do what you want it to do: you may really like the bit that comes next, or think it’s a really clever piece of plot, or it’s going to bridge that awkward transition between part one and part two, or you’ve been longing to stick the evil giant muskrat with the enchanted harpoon and you’re finally going to get to do it.

And you may very well not realise that that’s what you’re doing. Writing stories is hard* and one of the hardest things about it is the way EVERY FRELLING THING IS SO FRELLING FLUID. Every word you write may lead to almost any other word . . . and the word you wrote may already be the wrong word. Trying to translate that fabulous story that has taken over your brain and your life into words on paper . . . gah. It’s the worst. It’s the scariest. It’s the hardest.

Sarah, from Fumbling Toward Grace has a guest post up at There Is No Wealth But Life about why she wants to be a stay-at-home mom. I have to say, it's one of the best things on the subject I've ever read. I really liked this part:
There are people who make arguments from Scripture, or who try to blame all of society’s problems on the fact that fewer women stay-at-home anymore. While I’m sure that those arguments have some valid points, I think that ultimately they are unhelpful in aiding individual families in deciding what the parenting/working relationship should be for them. I think Catholic social teaching does have something helpful to contribute, namely the principle of Subsidiarity. What this means, is that prudential decisions ought to be made on the lowest level possible. In other words, within the parameters of what is moral, decisions about parenting and work ought to be made by individual families. Each family will know it’s situation better than anyone else will.
Finally, although it's sometimes worth skipping, (and although I actually like what Emma Watson is wearing here) it is for entries like this that GoFugYourself is still in my feed-reader.
Find any fun links recently?
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Why I love "The Scarlet Pimpernel" . . . the musical

I go in cycles in regards to the music I listen too. I listen to something for several weeks straight, and then have to give myself a break of about a year before I listen to it again (drives my husband nuts). 

Recently, I've been listening to a couple of musicals again: "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "Jane Eyre". Lovely as "Jane Eyre" is, Sir Percy is definitely my favorite. I love the music, but it's the lyrics that blow me away, both with their humor, and with their depth of feeling. As for humor, I love the song where Sir Percy and his men are trying to convince the Prince Regent that all their covert trips to France are made for the sake of fashion, not, of course, to rescue endangered aristocrats from Madame la Guillotine. To really convince their liege lord, they offer an apology for male plumage:

"La, but someone has to strike a pose

And bear the weight of well-tailored clothes.

Each species needs a sex that's fated

To be highly decorated

And that is why the Lord created Man!"

I just love that: to "bear the weight of well-tailored clothes"! Oh, the burden of being a pretty boy! 

And then I'm also struck by how well it hits the achingly sad  notes of the story. There is a song Marguerite sings after Percy leaves her alone on their wedding night (on their wedding day he is told that she has ruthlessly betrayed some of her social enemies to their death - though this later proves to be false), in which she mourns the loss of the man she fell in love with, and says, singing to the absent Percy, 

"I miss him so

When I look at you,"

because, of course, he is the man she fell in love with, but the change in him is so complete that she feels that though she looking at her lover's face, he no longer inhabits it. It's just a horrible thought, the idea that you can miss someone who is right there.

And I can't listen to this soundtrack without noticing how often, and how well, the lyricists employ biblical metaphors. In the song "Madame Guillotine", the French citoyens sing, 

"Zing! Swing! Savor the sting!

As she severs you,

Madame Guillotine.

Slice! Come paradise!

Our Delilah will

Shave you razor-clean!"

I mean . . . that's funny. And then they go for the poignant in songs like "The Riddle", where the characters sing, regretfully,

"Every Judas

Once loved a Jesus.

But finally,

Treason will seize us.

And only fools

Follow golden rules."

I can never hear that first line, "Every Judas once loved a Jesus," without thinking, ouch. Love is required to make a traitor. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

But, by far, my favorite song is "Into the Fire" which, corny as it might be, has given me courage more times than I can count. 

"Into darkness, into danger, into storms that rip the night!

Don't give in, don't give up, but give thanks for the glorious fight!

You can tremble, you can fear it, but keep your fighting spirit alive, boys!

Let the shiver of it sting you, fling into battle, spring to your feet, boys!

Never hold back your steps for moment! Never doubt that your courage will grow!

Hold your head even higher and into the fire we go!"

It just reminds me so much of all of Jesus' commands to "take heart! Be of good cheer! Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid!" To me, the music of this song is a great soundtrack to those words in the gospel.

Finally, I admit that I just love all the melodrama and silliness and passion in this musical, much as I love the melodrama and silliness and passion in the Scarlet Pimpernel stories in general. I love Chauvelin's passionate song to Marguerite, "Where's the Girl?" in both its original form, and in his bitter renunciation of love at the end of the story. I love the ensemble effort in the eponymous "The Scarlet Pimpernel" where a ballroom of English nobility try to guess the identity of the national hero and Percy brashly claims the title in public, knowing that telling the truth is the one certain way to make sure his disguise remains in place. 

And I love all the trumpets. Seriously, this score has a lot of trumpets and they're used, well, triumphantly. It rocks.

Okay, I originally meant this to be a small part of a "7 Quick Takes" post, but it's way too long, so I'm posting it as is. Anyone else have a favorite musical that you don't think enough people know about?

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Saturday, May 22, 2010


As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking about books and the Holy Spirit. I was thinking about how when I read books by Dallas Willard and St. Francis de Sales - two men from different time periods and different Christian traditions - I hear the same voice in them.

And this, I think, is how I know - apart from the intellectual arguments - that people on opposite sides of the schisms, people even from different parts of history, these Christians of whom I am one, are servants of the same Lord. Because you can read the work of an ancient Catholic saint and a modern Protestant and hear the same voice speaking through both men. You can hear the influence of the Holy Spirit in both men's words. You know that they are listening to the same Person and meditating on the same Lord's instructions and following the same Way.

I think this is part of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because He deigns to be present in each Christian, we are able to recognize each other. I'm not saying this like He's a magical talisman that beeps when you pass someone else that has one. What I am saying is that I think this is some of how Jesus' statement in John 10, that His sheep know Him and know His voice, works out in our lives. Because the Holy Spirit really is in us, we can really see Him, and hear Him, in each other. We know Him.

Sometimes, of course, we don't listen to Him, and when we're not listening to Him, I'm guessing it's probably harder for others to hear Him through us. But doesn't knowing that give you something to aim for? That's what I want: I want a heart pure enough that the light of the Holy Spirit can shine through it. I've seen that in other people in my own life - I've heard it in the words of men like de Sales and Willard - and I want to be like that. 

Not that anyone does it perfectly. None of us perfectly, not even these great saints. But you can see it in others, and isn't it heartening when you do? The great saints seem to me to be windows through which God's light can shine. Stained glass windows for sure, with streaks of black and odd-shaped sections colored by experiences good and bad. But God, as He always does, takes the mess we've made and - great artist that He is - turns it into something beautiful that shows His glory. Like a stained glass window. 

And the church, "with schisms rent asunder/with heresies distressed", is still the church. And you can know it is so because you can look at the Orthodox or at the Catholics or at the Protestants and in all of those groups you will find men and women who are filled with the same Holy Spirit. He is, as Paul said, our promise, our seal, that Jesus will indeed return and make it all right again. We know He will return because He did not leave us on our own. God is with us.  And He will come back and make it all right.

Happy Pentecost!

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Friday, May 21, 2010


I really like Tienne's post on the virtue of affability, along with her list of practical suggestions of how to maintain or regain an even keel.
This playdough volcano-land is amazing. I am so going to do this with the kids this summer. It's worth noting, too, for you other moms of littles, how young the kids she did this with were.
Susan Wise Bauer reviews the new Robin Hood movie, and finds better reasons to like it than most of the critics I've read did.
Finally, Pentecost is this Sunday, and Amy has a good list of ways to celebrate it as a family. We've done the red-rose-petals-on-the-table thing before, and it's a gorgeous way to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. I also really like the tradition of eating spicy foods (to remind you of the flames of fire).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

a new series: exercise DVD reviews

One of the things I've missed these past two weeks that I've been sick has been working out. Ever since early last spring, when I first discovered Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred, working out has been a regular, refreshing part of my week. And after finding and using that one, I branched out and found more workouts that made me want to pick up my weights, rather than making me want to pretend I didn't own a dumbbell.
Since what really changed me from someone who worked out occasionally to someone who worked out regularly was finding the right DVD, I thought it would be useful to have an occasional feature on the blog where I reviewed exercise DVDs I've used and liked. I'm not going to review the ones I tried and disliked because, well, I've forgotten about most of them.
I often get DVDs through our library system, but when they're really good, I end up buying them. It's cheaper to have a DVD library than a gym membership!
Oh, and maybe I should offer a bit of an apologetic for DVDs as a basis for a good exercise routine. For me, they're what makes working out a realistic proposition. As I said, a gym membership is out of my budget, and not just my financial budget, but my time budget. With DVDs, I don't have any travel time. I just pop it in the player and start working out. I don't have to find a babysitter (I usually work out during my twins' naptime/big  kids' quiet time). Working out with my kids doesn't make much sense at this point, though I'm hoping when they're older we'll do lots of family hikes and bike rides and swim sessions. So DVDs really fit the bill. Affordable, quick and super-local.
When it comes to these reviews, I should give fair warning that I tend to like DVDs that  lean more towards vigorous, muscle-building activity like weights and plyometrics, just because my body responds best to that kind of activity, and also because I find that working out hard gives me more bang for my buck, i.e., less time equals more results when you use that time working really really hard. Just wanted to be clear on my bias, because I know some people like longer, more time-consuming workouts (that would be you walkers and joggers. ;) ). What works for me might not work for you, but it might still give you an idea of what's out there. After all, you might like what I like for entirely different reasons than I like it.
But I also have a fondness for fun workouts that will tempt me to go ahead and exercise on days I don't feel like it, so there'll be some dance DVDs in this series as well.
Hope you enjoy the reviews! I'll try to post at least one a week for as long as they last. I'm hoping it'll help you find something that you'll like, if you're in the market. Sticking to a workout routine really seems to be a matter not just of finding something that's good for you, but of finding something that you like enough to keep doing it. Other people's reviews got me started on this track, so I thought I'd try to pass on the favor.
Plus, it's just fun to write about something I enjoy. :)
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Exercise DVD Review: Rodney Yee's Power Yoga: Total Body Workout

Rodney Yee's Power Yoga: Total Body Workout.  This is my favorite DVD to do on Sunday afternoons. It's long - over an hour - and it builds as it goes, so you don't really want to do it unless you have enough time to do the whole thing.
This is not at all a fast workout, but it gets pretty strenuous by the end, as he has you hold various standing poses and, eventually, full upward bows. I would recommend doing one of his beginner DVDs first if you haven't done yoga before, but Yee is great at verbal cuing, and once you know what the poses are, you don't have to look up at the screen much to see what you need to do (which is good when you're upside down).
What I really love about this is the symmetry. You do something on the right, and then you do it on the left. Then you go back to center and put every part of you straight again. Over and over. And every move is done to completion; it's a great remedy for that frequent, harassed feeling of never getting to spend enough time on your tasks to do them thoroughly and well. Here, for an hour, you get to do things thoroughly and well, with your body. I find that very soothing.
There isn't a lot of yoga philosophy in this one, so it's easy for me to take the physical instruction and not worry about spiritual instructions I might disagree with. Whenever Yee says anything about emptying or surrendering the mind, I just use the Jesus prayer ("Lord Jesus, have mercy on me") instead. I would warn that I think following the instructions to empty or surrender your mind is a very bad and dangerous idea (what, after all, might enter into that empty space you make?). Instead, invite the Lord in to the relaxed, meditative space these exercises can help produce.* But if you're comfortable taking what's good while tossing what's useless, you will find a lot of good to take with this DVD. Yee's instruction is excellent and this vigorous workout is, paradoxically, one of the most relaxing things I do all week.
Here's a video clip from the DVD:

 Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell
*I know there's a lot of debate over whether Christians can do yoga, and I think it's only rational to acknowledge that it comes from an opposing religious tradition. (I also imagine some yogis would argue that I'm not really doing yoga if I reject the spiritual component.) For what it's worth, my take is that it's been a normal thing in Christian history to take what we see as good from other traditions under the belief that all good is God's good (see Aquinas using Aristotle as an example of this). I think you can take what's good in yoga - and the practitioners have certainly tapped into something true about the mind-body connection in human beings - and use it in a Christian way.

Monday, May 17, 2010

on not just beginning

From Finding God's Will for You, by St. Francis de Sales:

“The enemy often tries to make us attempt and start many projects so that we will be overwhelmed with too many tasks, and therefore achieve nothing and leave everything unfinished. Sometimes he evens suggests the wish to undertake some excellent work that he foresees we will never accomplish. This is to distract us from the prosecution of some less excellent work that we would have easily completed. He does not care how many plans and beginnings we make, provided nothing is finished. No more than Pharaoh does he wish to prevent ‘the mystical women of Israel’ – that is, Christian souls – from bringing forth male children, provided they are slain before they grow up.

            “On the contrary, as the great St. Jerome says, ‘Among Christians it is not so much the beginning as the end that counts.’ We must not swallow so much food that we cannot digest what we have taken. The spirit of the seducer holds us down to mere starts and keeps us content with a flowery springtime. The Spirit of God makes us consider beginnings only so as to arrive at the end, and makes us rejoice in the flowers of the spring only in expectation of enjoying the fruits of summer and autumn.”

            -St. Francis de Sales, from Finding God’s Will for You

The beginning of that quotation seemed familiar as I read it tonight; I'm guessing that Jen over at Conversion Diary probably quoted it at some time or another. 

But, wow. Does that not strike you as very true? It reminds me about my last post, rambling on about  books. Really, the important thing isn't having a lot of books in the house. It's reading them. What's even lovelier than getting those books from the used book sale? Finishing Knight's Castle with my daughter tonight, and having her giggle in delight over the ending.  And that's not even one of the "spiritual works" that de Sales is referring to.

That quotation from St. Jerome: "Among Christians it is not so much the beginning as the end that counts." True. And it being just past Ascension, it makes me think of when Christ will be returning out of the sky, as the angels predicted. That will be the end, and the one we have in mind as we undertake all these other "spiritual works" to prepare ourselves for the day.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Getting Better, Loving Books

After a week of being very out of the loop due to head injury + flu, it felt really good today to start getting back into normal routines. Sure, I didn’t do everything today I normally do, because my head still aches (a bit) and I'm still sniffly (a bit), but we did some homeschooling, and a lot of cleaning up, and the kids made masterpieces out of playdough and right now there is a double batch of corn-sausage chowder bubbling in the cast-iron Dutch oven on the stovetop. Yum. All is not right with the world, but it's getting closer.

            I’ve been thinking a lot about books recently. I’ve been thinking about what I want to read next, now that the 15 books in 15 days challenge has convinced me that I really can be more ambitious about what I tackle. I now have de Tocqueville and Boethius downstairs, and I think I'll actually get through them. And I’ve been thinking about next year’s curriculum, because Bess is going into first grade, and we’re going to keep homeschooling.

            The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether or not the real reason I was able to be convinced that homeschooling was the right fit for our family was because I knew if we homeschooled I’d have the excuse to acquire and read many, many more books. I am just a bit of a bibliophile. This past weekend was our library’s used book sale, and to my amazement, even though I got there three hours after it opened, they still had two whole tables full of kids’ books. I got a copy of Peter Spier’s Jonah and James Thurber’s Many Moons and several easy readers and a picture book copy of Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, along with many other wonderful things.  And I have more wonderful things on the way from that online used book sale. (Thanks, Mom!)

            And my husband’s been building bookshelves. A month or two ago he found a great deal on a saw he wanted, and I opined that getting a new saw was a fine thing if that saw meant that I could get new bookshelves. I mean, a new saw should equal that new saw getting used, right? Adam thought that made sense, and he got his saw. And now, he has used that saw to make me some new bookshelves. The odd, unusable spaces in the corners of our home are now filled with books, and we both think it makes it look more like our own home than it ever has before.

       He made a narrow little shelf that fits between the loveseat and the corner cupboard. He made a wide shelf that fits between the other side of the corner cupboard and the sofa. There’s now a tall shelf dwarfing our television set and now all our children’s chapter books are on it instead of taking up space on the giant bookshelf upstairs where the grownup’s books are supposed to reign. Ah. The giant bookshelf upstairs looks much neater now that it's a bit emptier, but I don't imagine it'll stay that way long. And – wonder of wonders! – Adam also made a shelf to replace the dingy, falling-apart, particle-board monstrosity that was holding our homeschooling curricula. The new shelf fits in the same space, but it’s bigger and sturdier, and the shelves are more sensibly spaced.

            So I’ve been thinking a lot about books. I’ve been thinking about my books too, the ones I’m writing. I found out this weekend that I didn’t final in the latest contest I entered, but I’m finding that I’m okay with that, especially as I can already find in the manuscript I sent in at least two things any competent judge would mark me down for. I’m waiting to get my critiques back. If they marked me down for the same mistakes I can see myself, I think I’ll actually be encouraged, because it’ll mean I’m on the right track in learning to see my own weaknesses. And learning to see my weaknesses is a great step in learning to fix them.

            And I’m wondering how much I’m going to learn about writing as I start teaching my children how to write, and how much I’m going to learn about story-telling as I read all these good books to them. I do think homeschooling, at least right now, is the best educational path my kids can take. But it’s also beginning to look awfully self-serving. It’s really a second education for me.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Sunday, May 16, 2010

links! sales, giveaways and hobbits

Better World Books is having a sale on used children's books - they're all $2 if you buy a minimum of five, and the shipping is free. There's some great stuff there. Hat tip to Emily!  (One caution: some of the books are "marketplace" books, sold by third parties, and those aren't included in the sale.)
My friend, Susanne Dietze, is hosting a giveaway of "Highland Blessings", a Scottish romance, over at her blog. Deadline's tomorrow, so hurry on over!
This is a link to the most adorable, awe-inspiring miniature project I've ever seen: a painstakingly detailed version of Bag End. Oh, it's just gorgeous.
peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, May 13, 2010

an encouragement from St Francis de Sales

"Oh, how happy are they who keep their hearts open to holy inspirations! They never lack the graces necessary to them in order to live well and devoutly according to their conditions, and to fulfill in a holy way the duties of their professions. Just as God, by the ministry of nature, gives to each animal instincts needed for its preservation and the exercise of its natural properties, so too, if we do not resist God's grace, He gives to each of us the inspirations needed to live, work, and preserve ourselves in the spiritual life."
-St. Francis de Sales, Finding God's Will For You

Ascension Day!

Lift up your heads, O gates,
  And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
  That the King of glory may come in! 
  Who is the King of glory?
  The LORD strong and mighty,
  The LORD mighty in battle. 
  Lift up your heads, O gates,
  And lift them up, O ancient doors,
  That the King of glory may come in! 
  Who is this King of glory?
  The LORD of hosts,

He is the King of glory. Selah.

-Psalm 24: 7-10

When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He brought our human nature with him into the Presence of the Father. I've been reading along in 1 Samuel with the St. James Devotional Guide, reading about when the Philistines captured the ark of the Lord and put it in the temple of their god, Dagon. Dagon, of course, fell down and lost its hands and head before the ark of the Lord. Fr. Reardon comments:

The triumph of the “defeated” Ark within Philistia was a prophecy of the victory of “defeated” Jesus over the forces of the nether world. Like the Philistines, Death had swallowed what it could not digest. St. John Chrysostom said it best: “The Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh . . .. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven.”

Thus, then, the death of Christ. Then, in the next day's entry, commenting on Psalm 47, Fr. Reardon says:

We have been redeemed and justified by Jesus, our High Priest, not only by the shedding of His blood, but also by the power of His glorification over death, because He “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the Cross, by which He ransomed us and paid the purchase of our souls, was completed, fulfilled, brought to perfection by His Resurrection and entrance into the heavenly holy of holies, that place “behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19, 20).

The Ascension of Christ is not, then, an afterthought, a sort of postlude to salvation. It is not merely an appropriate but optional parade celebrated in consequence of the victory. It is an integral part of the triumph itself; or more properly, it is the crowning moment of the Lord’s priestly offering. 

I'd encourage you to go and read Fr. Reardon's entire meditation here, under the May 13 entry.

Happy Ascension Day, friends!

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Monday, May 10, 2010

try not to faint

Why? Because it's not fun.

I think I mentioned on this blog a week ago that everyone in my family but me was sick. Well . . . that didn't last. Now almost everyone but me is well, or getting well. I got sick a week ago, and I thought I was getting better this past weekend. But last night I woke up every time my husband turned over, and every time I woke up, I was aware of how much me head ached. So when I woke up and noticed it was a bit light, I thought, I'll go downstairs and take some Advil and then come back up to bed. Then it can work while I sleep, and I'll feel better when I actually do get up.

So I went downstairs, and poured myself a glass of milk (so I wouldn't be taking it on an empty stomach) and got out the Advil and Sudefed (I was stuffy too) and then, just as I put one of the pills in my mouth, I felt a wave of nausea and got really dizzy. I remember saying, "Oh, sh--."

And then I don't remember anything until I had this weird moment when I was awake and couldn't figure out where I was, or who I was or what was going on. A minute more, and I realized I was on the kitchen floor. A minute more, and I remembered why I'd come downstairs.

-and can I just say: I hate that moment when you wake up from a faint and don't know what's going on. It's scary as all get out. - 

So, as I lay there, I also realized that my head hurt. And I thought, of course it does, you fainted on a tile floor. And then I realized my elbow hurt too; I must have hit it first on the way down, and to be honest, I'm grateful, otherwise I might have hurt my head worse.

And then I realized I had to get back upstairs.  it took me a long time to convince myself to go though. I felt so rotten; moving was the last thing I wanted to do. 

but I did. I actually crawled, because I was afraid of fainting again and because I felt so rotten. I remember stopping partway up the stairs and thinking of that part in Little House on the Prarie where Pa and Ma were so sick, there was no one to get water for the children, who were also sick. and I thought, this is awful. I won't be able to take care of anyone. what would I do if the children needed me right now? I can't even stand up. 

And I guess that's why I'm blogging this, other than the fact that I'm bored, and I'm finally able to sit up (I've been lying down, trying not to move all day - and this has been complicated by the fact that I can't lie straight back, because I have a huge, painful goose-egg bump on the back of my skull). Why is it that being this sick makes me feel nothing other than guilty? It feels shameful that I should have been so sick that I fainted.  I know it's not my fault, but my husband's had to stay home from work and take care of the kids while I've done nothing - nothing - all day. I can't even write or craft (I'm getting away with this right now because I'm typing by feel mostly - reading lines of text makes me feel - how else? - sick. I keep trying to read a bit then having to stop. Yay for iTunes! At least I can listen).  I just feel so silly. 

and that strikes me as weird. I know it's normal for humans to feel badly about their faults, ashamed of the weaknesses we indulge, ashamed of our sins - but why do we also feel ashamed of the weaknesses we can't help? why is that part of the human condition?

I don't know. but Virginia Woolf once wondered why there isn't more literature about illness and now, seeing how philosophical illness apparently makes me, I'm beginning to wonder myself. So here, Virginia, it's not literature, but here's at least a blog.

Hope all of you feel better than me.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

p.s. someone is going to yell at me for not going to the doctor. First of all and most importantly, I can't imagine getting in a moving vehicle right now. Second, it's the flu. and it's not the first two days of it, so tamiflu or the like won't help. Three, I don't have a concussion. And so, I have nothing curable by meds. So . . . no moving vehicle for me, since it wouldn't do any good anyway.

p.p.s. I love my husband. He's been bringing me cold water and meds and soda crackers all day, while also taking care of the kids. Yay Adam! 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Links! Dueling, homemaking, homeschooling, but most especially, Terrible Poetry

If you go to no other link on this list, you have to go here, and check out Chip MacGregor's Bad Poetry Contest.  Here's his description of the annual event:

For those not in the know, we deal with books and publishing 51 weeks out of the year, answering questions and offering insights to writers and those interested in the world of publishing. But one week out of the year (my birthday week), we set aside the topic of publishing in order to share something much deeper... much more meaningful... and very stupid. In the old British tradition of offering something falsely deep yet with a veneer of thoughtfulness, we hold a Bad Poetry Contest. Each year the readers send in truly horrible poetry, then a team of experts (me...and sometimes Mike, if he's sober and I can convince him to help) offers a thorough evaluation of each piece ("That sucks... but this sucks worse."). Eventually we come up with a winner, who is presented with a truly fabulous Grand Prize. One year it was a 45 record of Neil Diamond singing "I Am, I Said" (which contains these deep thoughts: "I am, i said, to no one there, and no one heard at all not even the chair." Wow. Sing to me, Neil.) Another year it was a very special book that had been sent to me in hopes of finding representation: Does God Speak Through Cats? You see the theme here? We go for a mood of deepfulness and reflectivosity. And YOU need to participate. 

Moving on to real reflection: free advice may be worth what you pay for it, but this seems to be an exception to the rule.

And here is more in that sensible, gracious vein.

Finally, Lars Walker has a post on dueling as an economic phenomenon:

". . . imagine you're a gentleman who sometimes needs a short-term loan, and your only source of credit is to borrow from another gentleman. 

Now, imagine that someone publicly calls you a liar.

He is attacking your trustworthiness, the only collateral you possess. If word gets around that you're not a man of your word, who will lend you ten pounds, when you need to buy seed in the spring?

We still use the saying, “His word is his bond.” In this situation, that's more than a metaphor. It's quite literally true."

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Friday, May 7, 2010

Full skirts on dresses

I like wearing dresses, and now that I'm finally neither nursing nor pregnant, I can wear them again. But I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm going to have to make my own, because I cannot find what I like in stores. 

For instance, I look at a page like this (not that I'm going to spend that much because, y'know, thrift stores exist!) and I think, "What do you have against fabric? Use more of it, for heaven's sake!" And that's not a modesty rant. It's an anti-tightwad rant. 

At least, I think it is. Honestly, look at that. Now that I know something about sewing, I can recognize the one thing all of those dresses have in common: they use very little fabric, and that's solely due to the narrowness of the skirts.

Which, I'm guessing, ups the store's profit margin.

But who wants to wear that? People complain about dresses being impractical to wear, and I think, sure, when you're talking dresses like that. Dresses with full skirts, though, are pretty practical to wear. Something knee-length isn't even going to give you much trouble, if the skirt is full enough and the fabric has good drape. You have plenty of movement and even if you take a knee you're covered, because the fabric just falls into places around and between your legs.

But if you're stingy with your fabric, yeah, the dress is going to be impractical to wear. Even if it's cute as a button. (And for the record, I tend to really like how LOFT's stuff looks.)

I want to start a movement: Women for Full Skirts! (An acronym that sadly doesn't quite spell WTFs.) Oh well. I like sewing anyway.  And it's really not that important. But . . . I can't help thinking that if you're going to bother to make a thing, you ought to bother to make it well, make it so that it's pretty and it's practical. Form and function. Why make something that's not usable? I don't understand.

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

p.s. Some places do slightly better with the full-skirt thing. But that page just makes me want to go into another rant, which I would title: Women-have-waists-that-look-nice-when-their-clothing-highlights-them-but-those-waists-don't-start-directly-below-their-breasts-you-idiots.  Although that mistake is at least more understandable: sleeveless empire waist dresses only have to fit at the bust, whereas a proper dress has to fit at bust, waist, hips and possibly shoulders, making it less likely to be an off-the-rack success.   This also explains why the easiest way to get the silhouette of a properly-fitted dress is just to wear a skirt with a shirt. You can then have your fit at waist and hips with the skirt, your fit at bust and shoulders with the shirt, and the torso length problem solved by letting the skirt and shirt overlap if need be; that way the fit problems don't have to all be solved in one single item of clothing.

Okay, now I talked myself out of being mad at clothing manufacturers. They really are facing all sorts of problems when they try to make dresses blind, without knowing what body type they're going to have to fit.

But still . . .

Thursday, May 6, 2010

my first writing conference

I had the pleasure of going to my first writing conference this past weekend. Someday I want to go to the big national ACFW conference, but that’s probably out of reach this year, and besides, I thought it would be good to go to a smaller, local one first.

Since I live in Southern California though, my small, local writing conference isn’t actually that small (or that local; I got to drive freeways I’ve never driven before, anyways); I would guess there were a couple hundred people there, at least.

The weirdest thing about it, for me, was how diverse it was. I don’t mean diversity of race or gender or age (though it had all of those), but diversity of purpose. I think I’ve gotten spoiled as part of the ACFW. In the ACFW, everyone is, first of all, a writer of fiction. Also, there is a strong, strong drive towards cultivating excellence of craft. The conference I attended seemed to cater more to non-fiction writers than fiction and it also seemed to emphasize message a bit more than craft.*

Though not across the board, by any means. My favorite workshops were put on by Jeff Gerke, and he had lots to say about writing well. He talked about point-of-view errors and shallow characters, but far and away what I have the most notes on from his lectures is showing-not-telling. He explained it better than anyone I’ve heard yet.

I also got to have a couple of conversations with Susan Meissner, which I really appreciated. She talked about editing and about publicity, and I found everything she had to say helpful. She was also lovely to everyone who asked her a question, no matter how aggressive or how uncertain they were. It was a pleasure to watch someone field so many hopeful people with such grace. So, even though the conference wasn’t heavy on fiction, the people they did have there to talk about fiction did a great job.

I was also glad that I got to go to my first writing conference before I had anything to sell. I’m not planning to query my novel till late this summer, at the earliest, so I was able to go to this conference just to listen. Whenever I sat next to anyone, I was able to ask, “What do you write?” and listen to the answer without feeling that interior urge to interrupt and tell them what I write. I’m hoping that when I do go to a writing conference with something to sell, should that ever happen, that I can remember how I acted at this one and act the same way, listening lots more than I talk. It was good practice, I think. And I got to hear lots of interesting stories, lots of other writers’ journeys. The funniest story I heard though wasn’t from a writer proper at all, it was from a woman who had come to the conference to find and hire a ghostwriter! Not a bad place to look, actually!

I also felt like I got confirmation that I’m on the right path. I heard a lot of things where I was able to say, “yes, I’ve done that” or “yes, that’s what I’m doing”. There was new stuff too (there’s always new stuff!), but there was also stuff I’d heard before, and that was, to me, a good thing. It’s good because it let me know I’m headed in the right direction, even if I’m not there yet.

So that was my first conference experience!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*(It’s one of those old false dichotomies where the true answer is probably a balance of two not-so-opposing forces. But I have lots of sympathy for how hard it is to talk about without slipping into defending one side or the other – see me doing the same thing in this very entry! So I am not saying that people at this conference didn't care about craft. Just that the emphasis was different.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dr. Who + Captain Picard + Shakespeare = AWESOME!

As I type, this is winging its way to me from Amazon. I can't wait! The clips I've peeked at on youtube are great. David Tennant as Hamlet? Patrick Stewart as Claudius (and the ghost!)? Could it get any better?

If any of my friends/family who read this blog and are in the area want to watch this with me, let me know! I know some of you are as nerdy as me. :)  Popcorn, beer and Hamlet?

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

we might grow up, but we don't really change

I'm home sick today, having finally succumbed to the crud the rest of the family has had for the past two weeks, and so I'm going through a bunch of old schoolwork my mom passed onto me awhile ago.

And I'm looking at some notes my third-grade teacher made on my report cards (I remember this teacher as the one who gave me stress headaches - yes, when I was about nine!), and I'm thinking, Gee, that doesn't sound like me at all . . . ;)

Here you go:

"Jessica is capable of very high quality work in all areas of Language Arts. She is not very concerned about spelling words correctly in her work and only corrects words when the work is going to be published."

The current me thinks, "Duh. To bother one must have a reason to bother."

"She is able to write in different styles for different audiences."

Yes, one must always be aware of one's audiences. For instance, I'm currently aware that no one but me might find this interesting.

"Jessica is sometimes a little over-confident. This attitude tends to intimidate others and makes it difficult for her to admit to any mistakes or need for improvement."

Really? Hee. Actually, my sister helped to beat this one out of me - at least a little - in high school

This next one I think might have been wishful thinking on my teacher's part:

"Jessica is learning the important skill of respecting alternate points of view. She is beginning to realize that there is sometimes more than one 'correct' way of doing something."

Hmm. Current me says, "'correct', maybe. More than one 'best'? Nah."


Anyone else ever been amused by reading old report cards? I'm telling you, if you haven't looked over them, you might want to. It's weirdly enlightening.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Monday, May 3, 2010

What I've Been Reading Lately: a catch-up list

Now that the 15 books in 15 days challenge is over (wow, what a ride!), I wanted to post a few mini-reviews of books I read but didn't manage to review before the challenge started, plus the one I read since it ended (because it was Lee and Miller, and I just couldn't help myself):

The Two Towers  – Tolkien, J. R. R. - This was via audiobook; it's what my husband and I have been listening too in the evenings while we do clean-up and dishes. This is still just so, so good. 

How to Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably, and On Your Own  – Farber, Barry. - I quoted this one here. This book really does live up to its title, and I'd recommend it even if you don't want to learn a second language, just for the stories Farber tells! He's a great character, and he's used his gift for languages to travel all over the world and meet all sorts of interesting people. Practically, what I took away from this book was the truth that flashcards are not a bad, boring idea. I've been using them ever since I read this book, and my Spanish vocabulary is growing in leaps and bounds. He also encouraged me to use multiple methods to learn my target language, and I'm finding that that is paying off to. He encourages you not just to listen to tapes or to only do the exercises in your grammar book, but to listen to tapes, do the grammar lessons, listen to the radio, talk to people, read the books, use the flashcards - in other words, the more ways you can get the target language into your head, the better. I'm finding that he's right. Great book.

The Kitchen Madonna  – Godden, Rumer. - This one was a big surprise. It's beautiful, it's wonderful and it won't take you long to read. Go for it. (But make sure you get a copy with the Carol Barket illustrations.)

The Host  – Meyer, Stephanie. - After reading the Twilight series, and enjoying it almost as much as I enjoyed criticizing it, I thought I'd give her adult sci-fi a try. It was entertaining, though I had huge problems with the ending, which might or might not be her fault. I thought she was going to end it one way, and she chose another way - a way that felt like a bit of a cop-out.* Much like happened in Twilight, it felt like the characters didn't have to pay for their happy ending. But it was certainly a fun read - she really is good at world-building.

Fledgling – Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve. - Oh goodness, this ruined me. I read it after the 15/15 challenge, and now I want to read nothing but Lee and Miller! They just write exactly what I want to read: fun, swash-buckling sci-fi, full of nobles and alien etiquette and mystical heritage and futuristic societies and spaceships and dancing and coming-of-age stories and adventure and . . . and everything. They're just fun. This is hands-down my brain candy of choice. More, more, more!

So, what are you reading?

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*SPOILER: I thought she was going to have the alien parasite end up living in her lover's head, which would have made sense. But instead she magically procured another body for her, solving our heroes' problems at no cost to them. Okay . . . 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Book 15 of 15 Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel World of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh

Here's another one to which I don't have time to do justice. This was fascinating and a great read (it reminded me a lot of "The Year of Living Biblically" and indeed had an endorsement from A. J. Jacobs on the back cover). 

I was very impressed by how kind Radosh was; you could look at the fringes of Christian pop culture and easily write something scathing and well-received. Instead, Radosh really looked not just for the worst of Christian pop culture but also for the best, and was willing to have his mind changed when the people he expected to be awful turned out to be thoughtful.

He did find things he really disagreed with - and I had points at which I really disagreed with him - but I really appreciated this outsider's look at my own subculture. It was insightful and has left me with a lot to think about.

I wish I could write more about this one, but I was gone to a writing conference all day, and want to make sure I get my last blog post in for this challenge.

This has been a great challenge; I actually undertook it to force myself to do less online reading. It worked, and it felt like a sort of opposite-fast - I forced myself to give something up by giving its timeslot (plus a bit extra) so something else. A bit different that strict abstension, but I think it worked.

More on the 15/15 challenge here.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell