Sunday, October 24, 2010

Links! many, many mostly-unrelated things

I recommend this post by Fred Sanders on Cyrus the Great, which, in addition to explaining why that ancient king is important and providing one more good apology for classical education, includes many interesting quotations from Dorothy Sayers. ("Sayers" = must-read, yes?)
If you, like me, have a secondhand bread machine sans manual, you might find this post from the Hillbilly Housewife as helpful as I did. She goes through - in great and welcome detail - exactly how to use and figure out the quirks of your new-to-you appliance.
If you know who Fitzwilliam Darcy and Mark Darcy are, and if you have seen the Harry Potter films, you just might find this imagined conversation as funny as I did (it had me laughing out loud). (Also, I want to see the movie they're promoting. The trailer looks great.)
Speaking of Harry Potter, I'm pretty sure I need a "Make Love, Not Horcruxes" t-shirt.
I wrote earlier about using coconut oil as a moisturizer. If you want to read more about something similar, check out Kelly's post about using jojoba oil. She adds a "steaming" step to her routine, which sounds interesting.
Here's a neat blog post passed onto me by my sister-in-law called "Liturgy of the Home", comparing the rhythm of the author's home to the liturgy of the church, and looking at a few of the connections between them.
I really like this hairstyle tutorial (I'm wearing my hair this way right now, in fact!). It's quick and easy, but it looks very elegant.
This post, by a mother who has recently lost her son, is amazing and terrible and sad and all about the love of God. I don't have better words to describe it, but go read it. And pray for her and her husband, please.
Emily has a post about making your own bouillon which is intriguing.

I hope this week's links didn't give you too much whiplash! Not many of them are very related, but hopefully they provide you some good reading.
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, October 23, 2010



I don't know if I've ever read such a thematically perfect book. And I thought Bujold was good with characters.

Go read it! Go read it, everyone, so I can talk to someone about it.

Bujold is a virtuoso.

And she's done it again.

Go read, go read!

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's the weekend and I want to do too many things at once

I want to write on my real novel (the oh-no-war-broke-out-and-I'm-in-the-wrong-country one).

I want to write on my "fun" novel (the intergalactic space princess one).

I want to write on my other fun novel (the reality show romance - don't laugh. Or do. It's supposed to be funny).

I want to read the new Miles Vorkosigan book (this is probably going to win out).

I want to read the new Cooking Light I just got in the mail.

I want to read the other magazines I just got in the mail.

I want to crochet a bathroom rug. 

I want to cross-stitch.

I want to read every single Cat the Cat book to my kids.

I want to sing every single Easter hymn in the hymnal (yes, I know it's the wrong time of year, but Christ yet risen).

I want to make toffee (I'm not going to, it's not Christmas yet).

I want to work on a certain someone's Christmas present (but I won't elaborate on that here because said person reads this blog - ha! maybe it's YOU.)

I want to finish sewing the birthday dress I started for my poor firstborn TWO YEARS AGO.

I want to declutter at least three different places in the house.

This is how I feel, apparently, when I finish a really, really good workout.

(Miles? Miles, are you there?)

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CSA Basket and Menu Planning

I haven't done a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) basket post in awhile, and we're transitioning from summer to winter produce, which means different recipes (though I know that transition isn't as severe here in southern California as it is elsewhere in the country), so I thought I'd blog our last basket and last two weeks' menu plans that came from it.

Here's all the produce in the basket:

Wow. Our baskets just get so . . . green, come winter.

I'm sure it's good for us.

And here it is, spread out on our counter:

Here's what was in the basket:

-green beans


-three heads of lettuce







-winter squash










And here are the dishes we got out of that:

-pasta with basil, peas and Parmesan

-tenderloin with broccoli (this actually became chicken with broccoli on the side, I think)

-cilantro chicken with brown rice (so good!)

-frittata with green beans, served with salsa and biscuits (Our oven was on the fritz for a long time, but my husband fixed it - the stud! - and now I can make frittata again! This meal was all about celebrating the return of the oven in our house. The green beans were chopped small and added to the frittata itself, adding a nice juicy crunch to the dish.)

-meatball and chard soup

-squash and apple soup (it's terrible, but I made this and we didn't eat it. We had ice cream for dinner instead. Oh well. It was just that sort of day.)

The fruit became snacks. The parsley got chopped up and thrown into pasta for lunch. The avocado was made into guacamole for snacks by my husband. The lettuce and cucumber were also snacks (as salad and crudites) throughout the week.

And we just got our next basket, which looked pretty similar, but also had a pumpkin, a bunch of purple bell peppers, some plums, tomatoes, leeks and kale.

I made the basil into pesto last night, and I'm thinking about making Potato-Leek Flatbread with the leeks, and possibly picnic caviar (a family favorite) with the peppers. I might also give kale chips another go, since I have an oven and all. Hopefully this time I won't burn them! (Kale chips take careful watching, since they're so thin and thus burn easily.)  And we've got tons of chard, so I'm planning on using some of it in a crustless quiche tonight (good recipe, btw, but you can use about half the amount of cheese they suggest, and twice the amount of chard).

Anyone else out there enjoying some fall produce?


Monday, October 11, 2010

a bit more on education . . . or, Homeschooling is School, Part III

First though, for all my friends who have read The Republic, a question: would you characterize it as a treatise on education? And, to follow up: would you take Plato's recommendations about education within his thought-experiment republic literally, i.e., do you think that that is how he actually thought children should be educated?  

My memory of the book has me answering "no" to both questions, but that memory is also fuzzy enough that I'm realizing I really ought to just go and read the book again. Still. A lecture I attended tonight made me curious (okay, riled up) about the subject, and I'd love to have an answer in a shorter time than it will take me to reread the masterpiece. (Patience, thy name is . . . well, not me.)

(Also, would you say that the man who came up with the theory of recollection considered children to be a tabula rasa, as Locke did? That seems inconsistent to me, but I'm probably missing something.)

Right, that done, a bit more on education and academics.  

I really appreciated all the comments on my last post. I was especially grateful to Stephanie for suggesting the distinction between education and schooling. She said:

Eighteenth-century Americans from various denominations often used the term "education" to mean Christian/religious training and "schooling" to mean learning to read, write, and do math.

This, I think, encapsulates exactly what was bothering me about the educational philosophies I've been running into, the ones that imply (and sometimes explicitly state) that if a homeschooling parent raises a child who loves God and loves others - but is not academically excellent or competent - than that homeschooling parent has still succeeded.

To which I would answer: Well, she has mostly succeeded as a parent. She has failed as a teacher. (Or, I suppose, her children have failed as students. It's a two-player game, after all.)

And I'm not arguing that the latter is more important than the former. I don't think it is. I would rather my children loved God and their neighbor than that they were academically successful. 

But, if I am incompetent to lead them to academic success, I don't have any business homeschooling them. 

I suppose I should modify that slightly. I suppose that there could be circumstances where it was homeschool or end up with a child who didn't love God and his neighbor, in which case it would be an either/or choice: homeschool and be an academic failure or public school and be a moral failure. But I really don't think that choice happens very often, if at all, and it bothers me when it's framed as an either/or, as if all public school students were automatically destined for hell.

So, back to education and schooling. I think that children should, ideally, have both. Education is more important to the whole person, especially if we take Gabe's definition. He says: 

To answer my own question - education is for developing whole, virtuous, well-balanced people. It's not primarily for learning a trade or accumulating facts or getting a piece of paper. That can be said of all the subjects, and if you approach them from a utilitarian perspective I think you miss the point. For example: we don't learn Geometry because it will be useful at our job, we learn it because mathematics trains our minds and teaches us discipline and gives us insight into the ordered mind of God.

So, in his view (correct me if I'm getting it wrong, Gabe), education would tend to lead to schooling (e.g., the desire to train the mind and gain insight into the ordered mind of God would lead us to study Geometry). But, presumably, you could be educated without being schooled in the manner required by modern American law: say you're a member of a non-literate society who is nonetheless raised in the church, aurally receives the Word of God and meditates on it, is apprenticed to a trade, etc. It wouldn't pass muster legally here, but you're educated - you've been given the tools for becoming a whole, virtuous, well-balanced individual.

But also, this view leads me to say that whatever schooling your education does lead you to ought to be good schooling. If you really want to study Geometry because you want insight into the mind of God, doing a bad job at Geometry is unacceptable. Attacking it lazily, without care for the right answer, is not going to lead the results you want.

So, in this view, academic excellence should be considered important, right? And, if you slack on your academics because "character is what matters" aren't you, ironically, developing bad (slothful) character? In our Geometry example, if you are slack, sloppy and lazy in your endeavor, aren't you failing to bow your neck beneath the yoke of immutable mathematical law? Aren't you missing the chance to learn humility when you finally (as you will) come to the branches of math high enough to defeat your intellect? Aren't you failing to learn the virtue that comes when you have to do something that not only bores you, but that you are bad at?

And yes, in every subject save the few (or one) that become your specialty, there comes a point where you admit defeat, and you can quit. But unless there's a developmental disability, that point is not in the first grade! And I think it does a disservice to the homeschooling parent to constantly imply that the academics are not important. The academics are a legal requirement, and not an unreasonable one, in the culture we live in. In taking over your child's schooling (given the definitions above, you are already primarily responsible for her education), you have in effect promised that you will see that she is academically competent. And, given what you believe about education and virtue, why wouldn't you see that she was, as far as her abilities allow, academically excellent?

So, to conclude, I think the emphasis on character bothers me for two reasons: 

1) It seems to say that a rigorous education somehow excludes the possibility of being a person of excellent character. This is seen in the many, "If only they're good people who love Jesus, their SAT scores don't matter" talk. Well, yes. Of course. But why are you linking those two things together anyway? Because you're scared you're going to make a hash of the academics, that's why, and you want to point to the part you did well.*

(But if we're going there, I'd actually much rather think I was responsible for my child's poor SAT score than her damnation. Doesn't taking credit for your child's good character scare anyone else? Doesn't taking credit for it also mean you have to take the blame? Oh dear, that could be an whole other post . . . the idea that homeschooling = salvation . . . so I have two, no, Three! reasons for disliking the emphasis on character. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition . . .)

2) It assumes that character training is only done by homeschooling parents, that education is only done by homeschooling parents.

That second one might be another subject for another post. This one is already too long, I know. Thanks for listening to me think this out, friends. If you've got a corrective line of reasoning for me to follow, a helpful definition, or anything else, please chime in. I'm new to thinking hard about this, so I'd love to have help.**

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*See Jess. See Jess assume. Assume, Jess, assume.

**Among other things, this is code for, "I'm aware of the fact that a few more years of growth and maturity might have me eating my words." :D

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Couple of Experiments in Skincare and Housework

Hi folks!

We're a month into the school year now, and the days are turning over nicely, and all the blessings of routine life have me in an experimental mood. My curiosity is at a high enough peak that I'm actually trying new things instead of just thinking about them. They're not huge, life-shaking things. They're just little tweaks. But I like reading about other people's little life hacks, so I thought I'd write about mine.

One thing that I'm trying is using coconut oil on my face, as a moisturizer. Yes, that sounds a bit nuts, and the fear that I would instantly break out in the worst rash of pimples if I even hinted to my skin that I was going to try such an unconventional thing is what kept me just thinking about it for so long. But it's been a few days now, and there's no sign of a breakout. 

The two things that made me think about trying it were 1) it's done wonders for my hair and 2) my grandmother. My grandmother has the loveliest skin you'll ever see. She looks at least thirty years younger than she is because of it. And do you know what her skincare routine is? She puts Vaseline on her face every night. No kidding! And I think it probably sealed in the moisture after she washed her face before going to bed every night. I couldn't help but think that coconut oil would do the same thing.

Here's what I'm doing: every night, after washing my face, I dip the tip of my finger in coconut oil and then rub my hands together, and spread a thin layer of it over my face and neck. Then, in the morning, I wash it all off. I figure that I really will break out if I leave it on all day, because the oil will attract dirt. But at night, on a clean pillowcase, I don't see how it can.

The result so far is healthier-looking skin - honestly! I have an olive complexion that tends to leave me looking tired due to shadows under my eyes, and those have lessened, I think, just because the skin is plumped up a bit because it's not so dry. And I think I have fewer (hate even typing the word) zits than before; certainly I don't have more.

So . . . the second thing is housework. The older my youngest two get, the more energy I have. For some strange reason. Heh.  So I've been looking at my housekeeping routine and trying to figure out how to tweak it so that we have fewer chores left over till the weekend, and so that things are just generally cleaner. We do a good job around her at keeping vital things clean (like, say, food-prep areas), but things like, oh, the top of the fridge and  the baseboards - these are very seldom clean. And, you know, if I have the energy to do it, it's awfully nice to live in a clean home. 

So I'm trying this service. I was willing to experiment with it because it was just $2 for the rest of the year (Oct-Dec) and if I like it, I can just subscribe to the whole year in 2011, and buy that instead of a new personal calendar, adding nothing extra to the budget.

So far? So good. I'm using the page-a-day version and taking out things that don't apply to our home, and adding in things that do. For example, I've got 4 young kids, many of whom are not entirely clear on the proper way to use the toilet (i.e., it's not something you look at while your stream of pee goes elsewhere) and so I'm swiping down the toilet and floor right after I wipe out the bathroom sink. 

What do I like about it? I like that the very dirty areas are done once a day so that they just always look clean. What a luxury is a clean home! Really. I like that it reminds me to do the little things. I like that the less-frequent chores (like cleaning the fridge) are done a bit at a time. I also like that it's fairly similar to the to-do list I write out every day by hand anyway, and it saves me the writing-out part.

I'm also adding in the weekly zone missions from Flylady. Several years ago I did Flylady, and while I learned a lot (and kept up on a lot of it), it's just too over-the-top for me. Very emotional, those emails. And with the four kids, I get enough emotion thrown at me every day to last me, thank you. But the daily missions are helping me to do some deep-cleaning that was neglected in the Toddler Era, and that's nice. 

We're also starting to use this chore system with the older two kids. We've been hemming and hawing on what to do about allowance, and we've finally decided they'll get a small base amount every week, with the option of earning more. I think it strikes a nice balance between you-get-to-partake-in-our-resources-because-you're-part-of-the-family and you-get-to-contribute-your-blood-sweat-and-tears-because-you're-part-of-the-family. The thing I really like about the linked-to system (besides the fact that it's free) is that it lists both expected (unpaid chores) and paid chores, but the paid chores don't get paid unless the expected chores are done first.

The younger two children will be given the chance to earn pennies once I stop worrying about the likelihood of them eating said pennies.

So those are my recent experiments. I'll let you know if any of them crash and burn! But (especially regarding the first) don't expect pictures if they do. ;)

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

I recently read a top 100 list of the best first lines in fiction*. And while it got some things right - chiefly, it managed to include "There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it" - I can't help but think it was incomplete without this gem:

"As I sat in the bath tub, soaping a meditative foot and singing, if I remember correctly, 'Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar,' it would be deceiving my public to say that I was feeling boomps-a-daisy."

Ah, Mr. Wodehouse. I lift my glass to thee.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*I'm sorry, I can't remember where.