Monday, June 28, 2010

too good not to pass on is having a sale. They have a bunch of audiobook mp3 downloads for $7.50 - which is a great price, especially considering that a bunch of them are Blackstone recordings. They have stuff like The Count of Monte Cristo, That Hideous Strength and Pride and Prejudice. 

My husband and I regularly listen to audiobooks in the evenings while we do clean-up and dishes, and they're also great to listen to while you craft. And my kids listen to them during quiet time. I noticed they have the Winnie-the-Pooh books, which my children have listened to over and over.

Anyway - hope that helps someone!

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I might get to a hundred this year!

I just added my latest few reads to my 2010 list, and I realized that I'm coming up on fifty books read so far this year, and it's not even halfway through the year! Maybe I'll get to a hundred this year. That'd be cool.

Here's the list so far, alphabetically by author, save the first entry*:

-The Holy Bible

The Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle

Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter’s Uncommon Year – Brodie, Laura

Winterfair Gifts – Bujold, Lois McMaster

Manalive - Chesterton, G. K.

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

Beholder’s Eye: Web Shifters #1 – Czerneda, Julie E.

Changing Vision (Webshifters #2) – Czerneda, Julie E.

Living by Fiction – Dillard, Annie

Knight’s Castle – Eager, Edward

How to Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably, and On Your Own –Farber, Barry

The Kitchen Madonna – Godden, Rumer

Princess Academy – Hale, Shannon

Marrying the Captain – Kelly, Carla

Marrying the Royal Marine – Kelly, Carla

-A Devilish Dilemma – Lansdowne, Judith

Learning How to Pray for Our Children

Fledgling – Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve

Out of the Silent Planet – Lewis, C. S.

The Problem of Pain – Lewis, C. S.

The World’s Last Night and Other Essays – Lewis, C. S.

The British Museum is Falling Down – Lodge, David

For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School – Macaulay, Susan Schaeffer

Open Heart – Open Home – Mains, Karen Burton

Reduced Shakespeare: The Attention-Impaired Reader's Guide to the World's Best Playwright – Martin, Reed and Tichenor, Austin

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School – Medina, John

The Shape of Mercy – Meissner, Susan

The Host – Meyer, Stephanie

Our Village – Mitford, Mary Russell

Nanny by Chance – Neels, Betty

Bachelorette #1 – O’Connell, Jennifer

-El Dorado: Further Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel – Orczy, Baroness

The No-Cry Potty Training Solution – Pantley, Elizabeth

Keeping House: the Litany of Everyday Life – Peterson, Margaret Kim

-One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular – Pogrebin, Abigail

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Like Them – Prose, Francine

Rapture Ready! Adventure in the Parallel World of Christian Pop Culture – Radosh, Daniel

Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams – Sellers, Heather

-7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child – Steiner, Naomi, M.D., with Hayes, Susan L.

-The Fellowship of the Ring – Tolkien, J. R. R.

The Return of the King – Tolkien, J. R. R.

The Two Towers – Tolkien, J. R. R.

Stardoc – Viehl, S. L.

“What Shall I Say?” A Guide to Letter Writing for Ladies

Family Worship – Whitney, Donald S.

Carry On, Jeeves – Wodehouse, P. G.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman  – Wollstonecraft, Mary

Definitely some hits and misses, but the good ones this year have been so very good (how could I have let so much time go by without rereading Lewis' The Problem of Pain? It's amazing! Lovely, even). Biggest hits so far were the classics: Lewis, Tolkien, Aristotle, Wodehouse, Orczy, Eager, Chesterton, and Wollstonecraft. But some of the ones that were new to me** were also very good, including Sellers, Pogrebin, Hale, Lee &Miller, Godden, and Faber.  Good year for reading. Such richness! I'm not worthy of it. 

I'm overwhelmed with the fact that I get to read so many good words. 

Does the easy access to literature ever overawe anyone else? It seems like such a blessing to me.

Peace of Christ to you, 

Jessica Snell

*Note: I list books by the year I finish them, not the year I start them (because who knows if you're going to finish each book you start? I certainly don't always finish 'em), so some of these books, including the Bible, were started last year. Also, I count unabridged audiobooks I've listened to on this list.

**Books that were new to me, that is, not necessarily authors.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

links! picture books, immigration, literary morality, Facebook sucks and more!

This post from Simple Homeschool has a list of picture books set all over the world, from Tanzania to France to India. My library is going to hate me, because I just went through the list and requested almost all of them. Great resource.
The new immigration law in Arizona is controversial, sure, but Dr. Yeh does a great job in this post in explaining why the issues involved are less black-and-white than either side seems to think they are. As someone who thinks immigration law ought to be enforced, but also is pretty sure she'd try to get into the States if she'd been born outside it, I really appreciated Yeh's careful examination of the different parts of the immigration issue.
Shannon Hale (author of the awesome The Actor and the Housewife, one of my favorite new books from last year), invited and got a bunch of responses from other YA authors on how they feel about being burdened with the job of providing morals along with their stories. I found the various answers fascinating. I especially liked M. T. Anderson's answer:
I would argue, first of all, that our world-view is already wound into our narratives, whether we're aware of it or not, and that we can't help broadcasting it to our readers. Our idea of what a "happy ending" is, of who is evil and who is good, of who should triumph and who should fail (or whether anyone *should* do either) -- all of that is played out in our writing. Just because we don't overtly talk about it doesn't mean it doesn't structure our stories, without us even thinking about it.

And I would argue, second of all, that we shouldn't be embarrassed of the world-view that's wrapped up in our stories. (Although we should be embarrassed if we're being boring and clumsy about it.) What's wrong with acknowledging that children are not just learning about the world, but actually building their own world, as they read? They're making themselves. What's wrong with wanting to be there by their side as they do that? I think that's one of the incredibly exciting things about writing for kids.

Ann has a review of N. T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" that makes me want to read the book.  She says:

What does it mean to be Easter people? I’m not really sure. So this year, I made Surprised By Hope part of my Easter celebration, and it captivated me.
I've so far resisted joining Facebook, and Wil Wheaton's post makes me feel like maybe I'm smart rather than just misanthropic. 

If you are following the doings in the Anglican communion, you should go read Anne Kennedy's post: "I think maybe she really wanted to go to the party after all."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

San Juan Capistrano! by train and by foot - a celebration of 7 years

This weekend, my parents took our kids (bless them! bless them!) and Adam and I got to take off for 26 hours of joyful celebration of seven years of marriage.

In other words: happy anniversary to us!

First, my sister (bless her!) dropped us off at a train station, and we waited for our train, enjoying the view from the pedestrian walkway over the tracks. 

Then we boarded the Pacific Surfliner, headed for San Juan Capistrano! We had a pleasant chat with a businessman who also had four kids, and enjoyed the view out the window. 

We got to San Juan Capistrano, slung our packs on our backs, and set out for our hotel in Capistrano Beach, about 4 miles away.  Before we left the city proper, we stopped at a grocery store and bought food, adding greatly to the weight in our packs!

We hiked along, enjoying the cool coastal weather and realizing just how much fun we were having. Seriously, it felt like we were kids who'd just gotten out of school and got to head straight to the swimming hole. We passed a car dealership and waited for some folks to pull out, and Adam said, "They just bought a new car . . . and they're still not having as much fun as us!" :)

Eventually we got to PCH, and then it was a straight shot to our hotel, which was lovely by the way. If you're looking for a place to stay, we were really happy with them. The whole hotel is built to welcome in the sea air, the patio is decorated in moss, stones and statues, the rooms are tastefully decorated and the continental breakfast had a waffle iron and batter - mmm!

We rested for a bit, and then, just when our feet had started to forget the hike down, we took a walk down to the beach. It was really pretty. It was a sandy beach, but down at the tide line there were big pebbles that made that lovely rushing sound as the waves went in and out.

We went in in our swimsuits, but quickly came out and got covered up again because it was cold. Then we putzed around for awhile, looking at stones and holding hands and generally goofing off.

When we got back to the hotel, we went to the spa on the roof (perfect!) and watched the sun set from inside the hot tub (it was lovely).

The next day we put our packs back on and hiked back to San Juan Capistrano.

We had a late brunch, putzed around the giant antiques mall, and then slipped into a pub in order to watch the end of the England vs. USA World Cup match. (It was actually the third match we'd caught some of on this trip - if you get a chance, watch a couple games. It's great stuff.) (I should also note that - bless them! - Adam's folks helped bankroll some of the treats on this trip.)

Then it was back to the train station, where we played a few rounds of golf (the playing cards kind) while we waited, and then it was back on the train.

This was just a perfect day. So lovely, so much fun, and all with the best of men, my husband. Lovely. I want much, much, much more than seven more years with you, Adam!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

side-by-side reading: a foreign-language-learning hack

I honestly think this is a kind of brilliant idea - at least, I would think so if it hadn't taken me so stinkin' long to come up with it when it's really sort of obvious.  In other words, I'd think I was brilliant except for that I'm slow and oblivious. (Also? I'm guessing this has been done before. Which makes me slow, oblivious and behind-the-times.)

Anyway. One of the things I'm doing to work on my Spanish is reading novels in Spanish. At first, I tried El Leon, La Bruja y El Armario, thinking that because I was so familiar with the story, I wouldn't have to resort to the dictionary that often to figure out words I didn't know.

This turned out to be half of a good idea. It did work, to a limited extent. 

But I discovered something even better: if you're reading a novel in translation (and I'm hoping to get to Spanish novels actually composed in Spanish eventually, but I'm starting with the training wheels on by reading novels in Spanish that I've read before in English), the simplest way to look up words you don't know isn't to have the dictionary by your side, it's to have the English version of the novel by your side.

So I'm over halfway through Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, and the way I'm doing it is by reading the Spanish version, but keeping the English one open to the same chapter (see header picture for an example), so that when I come across words I don't know, I can re-read the paragraph in English and figure out what they mean. Then I usually re-read the Spanish paragraph, to cement the unknown words+meanings in my mind.

I do have to be careful to direct myself back to the Spanish version! I read so much more slowly in Spanish than I do in English, and I'm enjoying the story so much that it's tempting to just go for The Sorcerer's Stone instead of La Piedra Filosofal, but the fact that I'm enjoying the story is really what makes this work for me. I'm motivated to find out what happens next (I haven't read the book in about ten years, and I've forgotten a lot of the plot) and that keeps me nose to the grindstone. It's the carrot.

Hope this is helpful to someone else! It's really a low-pain way to get in some extra practice in the foreign language of your choice. To break it down:

1) Pick a novel you've read before and really like. Something fun, so that you'll be willing to keep going when it's hard. Something you haven't read for awhile, so you want to hear it again. And, most importantly, something that's been translated into your target language!

2) Get a copy of the novel in both your target language AND your native language.

3) Read the books side by side. As much as possible, read only in your target language. But when you come across words or phrases you don't know, reread the paragraph in your native language. Then reread it in the target language, so your brain can practice understanding the unfamiliar words.

4) Be a bit hard on yourself. Before you go to the English translation, try really hard to figure out/remember the definition of the target-language phrases. You might surprise yourself.

Anyone else working on a foreign language out there?

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

learning how to hurt people . . . and why in the world you'd want to know that

I mentioned a while ago that I got to go to a weekend self-defense program with my dad – though “self-defense” isn’t quite the right term. “Violence appropriately and masterfully used” might be closer to the mark.

And there’s the problem in writing about it. I really want to write about it, but I’m afraid that no one will want to read about it because, to be frank, thinking about violence is really, really scary. But let me offer this appeal for reading this: taking this seminar has made me less afraid. I used to not even want to think about what I would do if someone assaulted me, or threatened me when I was with my kids. But now I know what I would do in that situation.

Of course, I don’t know for certain that it’ll work, and of course I never want to find out, but I have a strategy and tools now, and they have a not insignificant chance of working, and just knowing what to do just takes a lot of the fear out of the possibility. Knowing that I’m not going to start anything, but that if something starts, I could finish it . . . well, it’s the difference between walking around as prey and walking around as predator.


So. The seminar my dad took me to is called Target-Focused Training, or TFT. The first things these guys say that makes a lot of sense? “Violence is rarely the answer. But when it is the answer, it’s the only  answer.”

If you think about it a minute, you’ll see what they mean. Ignoring social violence (the “pick a fight” variety, where people are concerned about establishing dominance, not about killing people), violence is perpetrated by people who have no interest in talking it out. Can you avoid this sort of violence? Often. You can be smart about where you go and when and with whom. But . . . if someone’s decided to come get you, he can. And if he has, he’s already chosen violence, and he’s not going to be dissuaded by anything but violence.

So, TFT isn’t “self-defense” in the traditional sense. The goal is not to keep your attacker from hurting you. The goal is to hurt your attacker enough that you feel safe walking (or running) away. It isn’t about fancy moves. It’s about injury.

And they define “injury” as something that basically shuts down your nervous system. The sort of thing where, if it’s done to you, you can’t keep going even with adrenalin. So . . . some gun wounds, for instance, are not injuries. Neither are all knife wounds. An injury is something like a broken bone or major joint. Or a gouged eye. Or a crushed windpipe.  They showed us some videos of sports injuries to show us what they meant. And we could see it. There are injuries after which the person is just oblivious to the world. He can’t get up or see or speak. And that’s what you want.

The way to get an injury is, as our instructor told us, to put all of your body mass through one square inch of your attacker’s body that can’t handle it. This reminded me very much of karate, where the goal with the strikes is to get your entire body mass behind them (this, btw, is why karate practitioners are able to break boards and bricks). So, basically, it’s physics + physiology. That’s where the “target-focused” part comes through. You need to strike the right places on your attacker’s body. Some parts of the body can take a lot of abuse without breaking. Some can’t. You want to strike the parts that can’t. And you want to strike them with a lot of force – just a glancing blow, though it might hurt, isn’t going to disable.

The instructors point out that the person who gets the first injury in (as they define injury) wins the fight, basically. You can hurt a person a lot without winning, of course (we saw an amazing picture of a fellow covered in horrific-looking cuts from a knife fight – but he was the winner), and the problem with a lot of traditional self-defense is that it teaches you to get lots of (non-debilitating) strikes in, or to keep lots of strikes from hitting you. But really, in this situation, you don’t so much want to keep from being hit as you want to get your one really effective strike in. And then, if you get that one really good one in, you will have the opportunity to get one more in. And then one more, and so on, until you feel comfortable walking away (i.e., he’s not getting up).

Does this make you psychotic? Well, no. The people who’ve been trained this way and reported back generally don’t kill anyone. But they do generally survive encounters. They get a strike in, and then another, and go for the next one and realize, “Oh, wait. He’s down. I’m done,” and they walk away and call the police. 

That? Is the position I would like to be in should (God forbid) I find myself being assaulted. I want to be the one walking away and calling the police. The idea is that you use violence, and because you’re trained to know where and how to hit, you use it better than your attacker (plus, you’re generally not going to be attacked unless your attacker is pretty sure he can win, which means he’s not expecting a real fight, which means you’ve got surprise on your side – remember, getting the first injury is important), but you’re also a sane, socialized person, so you’re going to stop when it’s time to stop.


Anyway, like I said, this answered the question that haunted me, which was, What do I do if I’m attacked while I’m with my kids? Now I know what I’d do. I’d take the guy out. Violence, I’ve learned, happens really quickly. Odds are, it’d be over in under thirty seconds, so, frankly, I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to my kids – nothing is going to happen to them in those ten seconds that would be worse than what would happen if I let a guy take us away at gunpoint, you know?

Does this make it all good? Well, no. There are no guarantees, and if you use their methods, you’re likely to get hurt, at least somewhat. Like one of the instructors said (oh, their realism was so refreshing!), “sometimes, it’s just a really bad day.” But . . . you’re also likely to be the one who walks away. And that’s what you want.

I honestly think everyone should know this stuff. It evens the playing field, and it evens it in favor of the non-psychotic. The instructors pointed out that when they got psychos into their seminars, the crazy guys never stayed, because they always wanted to be the ones “doing it to” everyone else, and wouldn’t take their turns being “reaction partners” for their fellow students, and so they’d leave. Which I thought was an interesting way to tell the sheep from the goats, so to speak.

Oh  yeah! That was the other cool thing. In addition to all the good info (and I’ve only given an overview – there’s lots more to it), we practiced and practiced and practiced this stuff. And how did we practice? Well, we practiced about quarter speed. It’s similar to how lots of athletes practice, doing over and over again carefully and slowly the motions they eventually want to do quickly and well. The theory is that that lays down the correct pathways in your brain, and then you can add the speed when it’s needed. It also keeps you from pummeling your partner, because it gives them time to move away from your motion. Much better training than your typical martial art sparring, where you pull your punches (and so train yourself to stop the motion halfway through). Pulling your punches while training trains you to, well, pull your punches. And you don’t want to be trained to pull your punches! Ideally, when you strike someone, you see, you should end up standing where he was. Every time. Your mass through his.

 So . . . I guess that’s it. It was an exhausting weekend. It was hard to do. Sometimes it was hard to think about. But I’m so glad to know what I learned that weekend. I hope I never, ever have to use it. But I’m glad I know it. Thank you, Dad!

 (I could write a whole other post about how much fun it was to hang out with my dad for a whole weekend – in between learning how to kill folks! – but that’s a story for another day. J  )

What do you think? Do you think the TFT philosophy on violence makes sense? Is this something you've thought about, or something you avoid thinking about? 

peace of Christ to you,

(yes, peace!),

Jessica Snell

Thursday, June 3, 2010

what prayer is

This definition has been rolling around in my head since I read it about a week ago. From Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy:

". . . prayer to the God of Israel and of Jesus, the living and personal God of the universe, is intelligent conversation about matters of mutual concern." (chapter 6)

The feeling I first had when I read that, and which has lingered, was some combination of delight and relief. Of course that's what it is. It reminded me of the time when I was worried about my eldest daughter, and someone wise told me, "Pray about it. God cares about her even more than you do, Jess," and I felt relief, realizing that it was true, that I didn't just share this burden with Him, but that He could completely shoulder it Himself,and was simply allowing me the dignity of carrying it with Him, as I allow my children to help me with my duties.

But that God and I have mutual concerns - and I immediately realized that we do - was a realization both homely and humbling. Things from the spiritual growth of my children to my own habitual temptations to the health of my husband to the health of our church, even to the health of our nation and to the spread of the gospel. Some more mine than others - but all of these things that concern me also concern Him, and we can talk about them, much as my husband and I sit at the end of the day and talk about our household concerns. 

Not that I am God's equal in the way I am my husband's . . . but that there is something of that same mutuality. That (because He has lent me Himself and I have started to grow a little like Him) I do care about things that He cares about, and that we can discuss them together.* That I can ask my questions, and that I can listen to Him as He answers me. That I can present a situation and that He does have an opinion on it, and that He will, at times, share it with me.

"Intelligent conversation about mutual concerns." It keeps rolling around in my mind, and I keep savoring the flavor of the thought, trying to let it inform me, to teach me what to do with my anxieties, to remind me Who I am to bring them to, and how I am to hold them lightly, so that He can take them from me. 

God be praised for His great goodness to us. God also be praised for his servant, Dallas Willard. It is amazing how God lets us share in His work.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*Also, I can't help but note, that if there is something in my life that I feel does not concern Him, it is probably a sign that A) I am wrong or B) it is something that should not be in my life. If you pray about everything, you just might end up repenting a lot. Not that that is bad. It is, actually, very good. Hard to hide when there is light coming in through every window.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fantasy Casting Your Favorite Books

Okay, today I'm going to share a game I sometimes play - and have actually played with friends - that's a real blast if you love both books and film. (Or TV. Or BBC miniseries. Or, I suppose, the theatre.) It rests on one question: have you ever thought about who you'd want to have play your favorite literary heroes if Hollywood were ever sensible enough to make a movie based on the book (whatever book that is)?

It's terribly fun. My favorite books to cast are Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books because they've got such a large cast of such well-drawn characters, but I think you could play it with any book or series and have a blast.

The game is: go through the book in your head, and think of what actor you'd wish to play each character. This is fantasy casting, so you can pick "an older Helena Bonham Carter" if you wish or "a brunette Reese Witherspoon" or whatever.  

(Sad thing is, there are some great books you simply can't play this with, because they've already both been filmed and been perfectly cast. I mean, can you see anyone but Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael? Or anyone other than Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe? Even Bernard Cornwell couldn't see anyone but Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe!)

As an example of how the game is played, here's how I'd currently cast the Vorkosigan books:

Miles: a younger Robert Downey, Jr. Insanely close runner-up: a young Hugh Laurie (if he can play both Wooster and House, he could play both parts of Miles). Insanely close runner-up the second: David Tennant. Obviously, all of them would have to be much, much shorter than they really are.

Aral: Mel Gibson. Weird choice, but the scandal currently clinging to him would actually enhance this particular character, I think. 

Cordelia: Emma Thompson.

Galeni: Stanley Tucci. Seriously, he would do such a great job.

Bothari: Sean Bean.

Elena: Eliza Dushku (yes, this does mean I don't like Elena as much as I think you're supposed to).

Elli: Gina Torres, of Firefly fame.

Ekaterin:  a slightly younger Cate Blanchett.

Ivan: a slightly taller Orlando Bloom.

Gregor: Ioan Grufedd.

I'll stop there, even though I'm leaving out tons of other great characters, like Koudelka and Drou and Tung and Mayhew. And Alys and Illyan. And Pym. And Taura. Etc.

So, there you go. If you get stuck in a doctor's office, and you forgot to bring a book, and the only  magazines on the table are Car and Driver and Prevention, you have something to distract yourself with. 

What books would you cast? I'm especially interested if you're a fan of the Vorkosigan books too; I'd love to know how other fans would cast them.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell